Saturday, July 10, 2010

I am a robot.


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HELENA
But man is suppsed to be the product of God.

DOMIN
All the worse. God hasn’t the slightest notion of modern engineering.

Karel Capek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) was originally written in Czech in 1923, with a translation provided by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair. It as produced by the Cleveland Repertory Unit at the Carter Theater in September, 1936.

Inspired no doubt by the Frankenstein story, this tale establishes the template for all future stories about artificial intelligence. What happens when man plays God and creates a being stronger than itself?

The character of Rossum and his son, who created this biological creature (the notes state that “robot” is simply the Czech word for “worker”) never appear, they are this story’s pre-history. The character of Domin has taken their creation, and made a business out of it. His dream is to rid our species of toil. We will all be aristocrats, liberated from work. The robot does not feel, does not want, does not care. The perfect slave.

But this is all metaphor, right? We never want to think that those who work for us care, or feel, or want. They are happy where they are. They would not have it any other way. The worker does, however, rise up against its oppressor, to disastrous results - for everyone, including the robots.

Reading period plays, I am constantly amazed at how many ideas are, well ... old. As a result of the preponderance of substitute people (though we are reminded more than once, “robots are not people”) people ceased to be able to procreate. Nature is out of balance. We are creating life that replaces us, and the life-force assumes we no longer need to reproduce in the old-fashioned way.
Cleveland Plain Dealer - September 8, 1936
Federal Theater Here Produces Karel Kapek’s ‘R.U.R.’ Robot Play
By William McDermott
Critic spends over half of the review lamenting for-profit theater and lambasting this exercise in providing work to unemployed actors. Fourteen paragraphs in, he begins to discuss the play itself.
Neither the play nor the performance would have the slightest chance of success in the ordinary operation of the commerical theater.

Much better plays of this sort are written today by men like Odets. But R.U.R., in its time had a certain tension, excitement and significance. For two acts the author builds and atmosphere of universal ominousness - and when the roots (sic) finally revolt, there should be a scene of magnificent terror.

In this performance neither the preparation nor the denoument despite a couple a couple of worthy personations had any quality of the sinister or any feeling of passionate resentment, or any of that high note of dramatic awesomeness which is the very essence of the theme.
“Dramatic awesomeness.” With two words, I suddenly begin enjoying McDermott’s review.
The play, in short, escaped the actors. I suppose some of it was lost in the spacious, and largely empty recesses of the Carter Theater, for many of the lines echoed through the unoccupied reaches of the theater and were not clearly received by such ears as were there to receive them.
No, he’s a dick.

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