For millennia people have told stories about nonhuman artificial creatures, some of which were nearly human or became human



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  • For millennia people have told stories about nonhuman artificial creatures, some of which were nearly human or became human.

  • In 1921, the play R. U. R. introduced “Robots,” artificial beings that eventually become more human. R. U. R. was an immediate sensation and has been frequently staged. This year, it inspired Anthony Clarvoe’s play Gizmo, and a film called R. U. R. is due out in 2014.

  • In cinema, robots have appeared in some 600 films since 1920. Early on, Metropolis (1927) introduced a robot that undergoes a nonhuman to human transition, and many other such transitions have been presented in film since.







For myself, I confess that as the author I was much more interested in men than in Robots. Karel Čapek, Saturday Review, 1923

  • For myself, I confess that as the author I was much more interested in men than in Robots. Karel Čapek, Saturday Review, 1923









  • Social realities of the time. Helena’s vision of robot-human brotherhood and the robot revolution read like the history of the Russian Revolution that created the Soviet Union in 1917, just before R. U. R. was written.

  • Replacing God with man. In 1923 Capek wrote: “[Rossum’s] dream to create an artificial man…is inspired by his obstinate desire to prove that God is unnecessary and meaningless.”

  • Dehumanization and humanization. Technology without morality can dehumanize. Tempered with morality, however, it can change unfeeling robots into fully feeling beings, leading after turmoil to a better version of humanity.

  • Metropolis expresses similar anxieties.













  • Social realities of the time. Still within the era of the Russian Revolution, Metropolis is concerned with the divide between the ruling class and the working underclass.

  • Replacing God with man. Metropolis has extensive religious references and symbols

  • though they do not seem to explicitly raise the issue of Rotwang as God-like creator.

  • Dehumanization and humanization. The robot-like workers are mistreated in the name of technology. Rotwang’s science means to replace them with robots, but he also transforms a mechanical robot into a (seeming) human – yet a debased one.

  • Metropolis and R. U. R. explore the gamut of robotic possibilities and the dividing line between nonhuman and human. Together, the play and the film ask whether humanity’s creations can outdo nature, and whether humanity’s own moral standing gains or loses by creating these beings.

  • And together, the play and film offer different methods to change nonhuman to human, as do other plays and films.













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