robot or automaton (ôtämˈətänˌ) [key] mechanical device designed to perform the work generally done by a human being. The Czech dramatist Karel Čapek popularized the expression [Czech, = compulsory labor] in his play R. U. R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), produced in Prague in 1921. Modern robotics has produced innumerable devices that replace human personnel, and the term robot is used to designate much of this machinery. Although most so-called robots use software to operate independently of direct human control, the term is also used for vehicles and other machines that are remotely controlled by a human operator. The word also is used frequently in fiction, referring to a self-controlling machine shaped like a human being. While the concept has been the subject of stories since the golem of medieval times, it reached its greatest exposure in popular culture with the work of Isaac Asimov in the 1950s and the motion picture robots Robby in Forbidden Planet (1956) and C-3PO in Star Wars (1977).

See G. Wood, Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life (2002).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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