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"There was a time when one old eccentric guy with a notebook could do something important to science. Now even the resources of a major university are often not enough."
- Jerry Pournelle

Robot  
  A (usually human-shaped) artifact with the same kinds of abilities as a human - this is the first use of the word 'robot'.  

This play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) premiered in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1921. The word "robot" comes from the Czech word robota, which means "drudgery" or "servitude"; a robotnik is a serf who performs menial labor.

Domin: "Practically speaking, what is the best kind of worker?"

Helena: "The best? Probably the one who-- who-- who is honest-- and dedicated."

Domin: "No, it's the one that's the cheapest. The one with the fewest needs... [Young Rossum] chucked out everything not directly related to work, and [in] doing that he virtually rejected the human being and created the Robot."

From R.U.R., by Karel Capek.
Published by Not Available in 1920
Additional resources -

Although today we usually think of the word "robot" in association with some sort of electromechanical being made of metal and spare parts, the artifact in the play R.U.R. is closer to what we would call an android. The robots were fabricated in a biological manner.

They remember everything, while at the same time thinking of nothing new; one of the characters remarks that "they'd make fine university professors."

Capek himself credits his brother Josef Capek as the originator of the term "robot". The play was issued in an English translation in 1923, introducing the term to the English-speaking world.

It appears that Isaac Asimov, rightly famed for his collection of stories about robots, was the originator of associated terms like "robotics" and "roboticist".

The idea of an artificial person is quite old. The ancient Greek legend of Cadmus, who sowed dragon teeth that turned into soldiers, is one example. Another is the story of Pygmalion, an artist so great that one of his beautiful sculptures, Galatea, came to life. The Greeks also tell of Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods, who created metal mechanical figures; the mythical mechanical creation Talos defended Crete.

Capek himself recognized that his "robota" were recreations of the golem, a creation of Jewish folklore. The golem is formed of earth or clay in a roughly human shape and then animated by religious or magical forces.

The Greek genius Ctesibius of Alexandria created clocks that activated simple automata at set times in the third century B.C. His machines and automata were described in a First Century A.D. document by Heron of Alexandria. See the term andy from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick for another look at non-mechanical robots.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from R.U.R.
  More Ideas and Technology by Karel Capek
  Tech news articles related to R.U.R.
  Tech news articles related to works by Karel Capek

Robot-related news articles:
  - Roomba's Brother PackBot
  - Android Weightlifter Now Capable Of Body Slam
  - Wakamaru Robot Receptionists Hired By Temp Agency
  - RunBot Learns To Walk At Human Speed

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IPAL Chinese Robot Babysitter
DIY Autonomous Robot Detects Trash

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