THE VIRTUAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
end, it is unclear what they offer as founders of a new race that hu- mans could not.
Still, much in the play is powerful: the brutal revolution; artificial beings that are humanlike inside and out, anticipating modern ideas of artificial organs; and an important insight about robot design. To produce robots at minimum cost, Rossum’s son, an engineer
. . . rejected everything that . . . makes man more expensive. In fact he rejected man and made the robot . . . [it is] a beautiful piece of work . . . the product of an engineer is technically at a higher pitch of perfection than a product of Nature. . . . God hasn’t the slightest notion of modern engi- neering.
This speech represents a breathtaking degree of technological hubris in the service of the profit-making R.U.R. Corporation, but it also contains the germ of an important idea: Evolution is exceedingly slow and might be improved by human design.
FEMALE ROBOTS, BAD AND BEAUTIFUL
Hordes of workers also figure in the 1927 silent film Metropolis, but these are human (although their possible replacement by robots en- ters into the story). However, the most memorable character is a dis- tinctly female robot.The film, directed by Fritz Lang and based on the novel by his wife,Thea von Harbou, takes place in a fantastic future urban setting that is a character in itself.Wealthy industrialists enjoy the soaring splendor of enormous skyscrapers, while the slave workers who keep Metropolis functioning inhabit a dark and squalid under- ground world.
Freder, the son of Metropolis’s Master, John Frederson, wants to improve the workers’ conditions after becoming attracted to one of them, the lovely and saintly Maria.To prevent this, his father plots to replace Maria with a synthetic version that will preach dissatisfaction and revolution.The plot depends on the cooperation of Rotwang, a kind of combination scientist and wizard. At his workshop, which includes intricate chemical and electrical apparatus and a magical pen- tagram, Rotwang tells John Frederson: