We’re at the Robot centennial, a century of upheaval, of wonder and agony, of signs and portents, a century of mutual influence and inspiration between culture and technology, art and policy, science and science fiction.
In 1921 Czech author Karl Čapek wrote a prophetic theater play that deeply understood his time and was harbinger of things to come. “Rossum’s Universal Robots” presented a futuristic fantastic conflict between industry and Man, global commerce and humanity itself, foreshadowing the disruption and crumbling of human rights and humanistic philosophy, even when at their infancy at the time. “RUR” as it was commonly called did this through the narrative and artistic mechanism of the Robots, artificial human-like automata, manufactured to replace humans and human labor in dirty, dangerous or monotonous tasks.
For 100 years robots have evoked both curiosity and dread, but we mustn’t forget – they were created by man, by A man. So much has been written and expressed about the robots, far less about “Rossum”, the capitalist-industrialist and brilliant scientist, creator of the Robots.
The invented Czech word “Robot” is suggestive of forced labor in the Czech language. “Rossum”, the name used for the Billionaire-scientist who created the robots, is reminiscent of “Rozum” – reason, rational, intellect, in Czech. According to Čapek and through the eyes of Rossum, the captain of Industry & brilliant scientist – logic demands the creation of robots. The rational mind brings forth advanced technologies which beg the replacement of the human by non-human (in dangerous or tedious tasks only, of course), and in the name of progress, allows for and demands – slavery. Čapek saw the deep connections between massive wealth (held by a few), global trade, advanced technologies, human misery and the rise of the robots.
Utopia will focus this year on the relationship between logic and servitude, extreme wealth, technological progress, human misery and (robot) revolution.
Masters and slaves. Rossums and Robots. Who were they, who are they now, who will they become in the future? Are they inevitable in any society? Would we ever be free of both?
We’d love to receive suggestions for articles & reviews, talks & performances and other creative initiatives and artistic explorations on these themes, utilizing the widest perspectives possible – thought and creativity in philosophy and economics, design and history, engineering and art, technology and policy and of course – film, media and literature.
Writing and text are intended for the #3 edition of the Utopia Digital Magazine. Talks, lectures, performance and any other suggestion for physical events and manifestations are meant for the #3 edition magazine launch event (February 26, 2022) and following Utopia events in this theme later this year.