The origin of Robotics


When words become commonplace enough, it’s easy to assume that they have always been used, or that they are some how intrinsically related to whatever they refer to, but in reality a lot of the terminology we use comes from literature. Case in point:

10 Words You Might Think Came from Science (But are Really from Science Fiction)

In addition to that set of words, according to the OED, the term “robot” was originally a “reference to the mass-produced workers in Karel Čapek’s play  R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920) which are assembled from artificially synthesized organic material.”

After all, words don’t just appear out of thin air with a predefined meaning. Someone has to come up with them at some point.

Are there any words, expressions, or phrases that you’ve been surprised to discover come from a book, movie, play or poem? (And don’t worry, Shakespeare will get his own discussion.)


2 thoughts on “The origin of Robotics

  1. You know, I’m not a frequent visitor of io9, but I happened to read that article yesterday. It made me think of Thor, actually. Natalie Portman’s character is arguing with Stellan Skarsgard’s character about science and science fiction. Skarsgard says the idea that the man they came across is Thor is science fiction, not science. Portman argues that it’s not science YET.

    Though when it comes to scifi, my real specialty is Star Trek. The Original Series’ future tech, in many ways, is today’s old news. Doors that sense when you are near and open automatically for you, communicators that flip open, allowing you to speak to someone miles and miles away, and Uhura’s wireless earpiece which allows her to hear and speak without a a handset are all examples of technology that has become commonplace.

    I think I got a little distracted in that paragraph. It tends to happen when I start talking Star Trek. My point, though, is that science fiction DOES become science, and we sometimes adopt the words used in the fiction to describe our science.

    • Thanks for that response, Steve. I think you’re absolutely right about science fiction becoming science (and I love that you threw a Thor reference in there). I think it just goes to show how completely media becomes intertwined with the way we live. All of those examples from Star Trek are great, and even though Star Trek isn’t the directly the reason for or the origin of those technologies that we have today today, it’s really fascinating to see how the ideas portrayed in the media of the past has come to fruition today.

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