18 - Historical research on the notion of the robot

N. Lygeros
Translated from the Greek by Despina-Myrto Drougka

As we search for the etymology of the word robot, we discover that it is a creation of the Czech novelist playwright Karel CAPEK, from the Czech word robota which means “enforced labour” to define the “artificial workers”, in the theatrical play R.U.R (Russom’s Universal Robots, 1921). However, we should not assume that the notion of robot emerged in human mentality the same era that the word appeared. Among the few references on the subject, here is one of the oldest references, in Robert Flacerière’s book, which title is: The everyday life in Greece in Pericles’s century (1959). “ Homer had already imagined in the world of gods, marvelous “robots”, manufactured by Hephaestus: the tripods, which, “on their wheels of gold, enter the palace on their own, where the gods are gathered, returning to their home afterwards”, and two girls in particular he manufactured out of gold, that serve him and support his staggering and crippled walking; the compressed air-blowers of his hammering, working on their own, following his orders. So, we can say, that Greeks had foreseen what we now call “automatism”, the same way Icarus’s wings had preluded early on the aviation, having at their disposal nothing but the hands of their slaves, though”.