Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto




The Robot Institute of America (founded 1979) defined a “robot” as a “reprogrammable, multi-functional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools or specialized devices through various programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks.”

Besides the fact that as a lexical entry, I find the definition above to be a sort of dictionary-robot, performing various tasks of definitional work simultaneously, I think it is interesting because it is purely functional.  There is no etymology, no key to how to use the term, and it assumes a certain position of approach from within mathematics and computer science.  I found an even dorkier (or more poetic?) definition at :

Force through intelligence, where AI meets the real world.

Webster’s 3rd has defined a “robot” as an “automatic device that performs functions normally ascribed to humans or a machine in the form of a human.”

Here, we see the introduction of the human form, mechanized movement and machinery to the definition of “robot.”

The Czech playwright Karel Capek coined the term “robot” in his 1921 play “R.U.R.” (Rossom’s Universal Robots).  The term came from the Czech word for one who performs forced labor, as in a serf or a slave.  The play was a critique of what Capek saw as the dehumanization of “Man” in an increasingly technological civilization.  In his play, “robots” were chemically created, and not derived from machines, as the word is used now.



In 1942, Isaac Asimov coined the term for the science of robots, “robotics” in his short story “Runaround.”  His 1950 short story, “I, Robot,” established the three Laws of Robotics, which mainly define a relationship of servitude between robots and humans.

“Robot” and “Robotics” have invented etymologies, directly tied to the literature of science fiction and anxieties of technology and civilization.

For further internets readin’ make sure to browse this Victorian Robots page.

and finally,


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