Time for R in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge!
The word robot first entered English in 1921, thanks to a play called R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek. It premiered in Prague, and was later shown in New York. The story takes place in a factory that makes synthetic people out of organic matter – so today, we might call these robots cyborgs, clones, or perhaps replicants. This was the first story of robots rebelling against their human masters, leading to a trope that would persist through sci-fi for ages.
Of course, I can’t talk about robots without mentioning good old Asimov. Thanks to him, we have words like robotics and roboticist. Even if you’ve never read a single story by Issac Asimov, you probably know that he gave sci-fi the Three Laws of Robotics, and that he defined many sci-fi tropes involving robots and artificial intelligence. If you’ve ever read or watched any story with a robot wondering if it is truly alive, that story was either adapted from or heavily influenced by Asimov’s writing.
Are real robots self-aware, like in sci-fi?
Not yet – at least nobody thinks so. One problem is that nobody really agrees on what consciousness or self-awareness truly mean. Alan Turing proposed a famous test that sidesteps the question – he said that if a machine could make you think it was human, then we might as well consider it self-aware. The Turing Test is used by many groups trying to build smart computers and robots, so what they’re really doing is teaching machines to trick people into believing they are human.
If there were a machine that could consistently pass itself off as human, I think many experts would decide that it was self-aware. We only have our own human definition of sentient to work with, which means that people might not even know if a robot is exhibiting sentience in some different way!
In my fiction:
Robots and androids are commonplace in the universe of Far Flung. I’ve had very human-looking androids like Aren 03 as doctors and nurses, and arachnid-like repair bots used in maintenance and emergency situations.
More about robots: