THE VIRTUAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
punished.Victor feels agonies of guilt over the deaths his creature has caused, and refuses to reveal the secret of animation because it will lead only to one’s “destruction and infallible misery. Learn from me . . . how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge”—a danger also suggested by Frankenstein’s subtitle “The Modern Prometheus,” which reminds us of the mythologicalTitan who sought to benefit humanity by stealing fire from the gods, and was terribly punished for his act.
Beginning in that same era and continuing into the early twenti- eth century, other artificial beings appeared in literature, dance, and opera. In the 1817 story “The Sandman,” by the German romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, a young man falls in love with Olympia, a clockwork automaton. Olympia appears again in Delibes’s 1870 ballet Coppélia, and in Offenbach’s 1881 opera “The Tales of Hoffman.” Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracke , in which toys come to life, also draws on Hoffmann’s tale. In 1900, Frank L. Baum’s The onderfulWizard of Oz introduced the Tin Woodman; another creation, Tik-Tok the “Ma- chine Man,” who is made of copper, appears in 1907 in Ozma of Oz. It was in the 1920s, however,that truly compelling beings characteris- tic of the twentieth century appeared in the play R.U.R. and in the film Metropolis.
Problematic though they are, Frankenstein’s Being and the golem are only single creatures.The work that introduced hordes of robots and gave us the term “robot” is the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by the Czech Karel Capek, first performed in Prague in 1921 and in the United States in 1922.The word “robot” comes from the Czech robota, which means forced labor. The name is appropriate, because these beings are manufactured only to work, and that is “the same thing as the manufacture of a gasoline motor” says Domin, manager of the R.U.R. works. In keeping with their machinelike fate, the robots are designed to feel nothing.As Domin explains,“A man is something that feels happy, plays the piano, likes going for a walk. . . . But a working machine must not play the piano, must not feel happy. . . . ”