1) What is the role/function of the robot? Why was it created?

As Domin's narrative explains, the impetus for Rossum the scientist (as opposed to his son the engineer) for creating a robot was his ambition to become "a sort of scientific substitute for God." The quotation suggests that God's act of creation is synonymous with power, the power that derives from defining everything that follows after Him. The other implication is that the human act of creation, by verisimilitude, must bring human beings that much closer to divine-like power.

However, the parallel between divine creation and mortal creation is ultimately untenable, for in order to have the power of God, one must have, besides the ability to create, the ability to resist redefinition by one's creations. Conceptually, if God is the ultimate originator, this means that nothing can precede him and that all definitions must therefore proceed from Him. Nothing falls out of his purview, his realm of influence. Rossum's ambitions to achieve that kind of power already became problematic in his first failed experiment with a human-like Robot and the introduction of the son, whose engineer's approach to building the Robots replaced Rossum's.

His son intervened because Rossum's first attempt at creating a viable Robot was unsuccessful--the Robot only lived for a few days. One can already see here the process of redefinition as Rossum's failure thwarts his ambitions to achieve a God-like role as a creator. The arrival of his son, whom one could also regard as a creation of Rossum's insofar as the son is his progeny, exacerbated the situation. The son usurped Rossum's role as creator of the Robots, undermining his authority, his will, and his aspirations.

Young Rossum's reason behind creating the Robots differed from his father's by being more utilitarian, but it did not spare him a fate similar to his father's. His goal was to create an efficient labor force that would serve human interests, but he, too, was not immune from the inevitable process of redefinition. His reasons for creating the Robots were eventually subverted as the Robots revolted against their former masters by destroying humanity.

Both father and son manifested their ambitions on the assumption of man's indefatigable ascendancy. Their mistake was not being able take into account the potential for events to fall out of their control, but even worse not seeing that achieving and sustaining such a high level of control was delusional.


2) How human is it? Is it meant to be so?

The Robots are quite human-looking in appearance. In her first encounter with them, Helena Glory has difficulty believing that they are not really humans playing their parts in an elaborate hoax. However, since young Rossum's goal was to create the most efficient workers possible, he made certain to exclude those characteristics that would hinder their ability to function in that capacity.

The managers of the factory continue his legacy, building Robots incapable of feeling desire, thus eliminating within them the need for leisure and the potential for dissatisfaction. During Act I of the play, Dr. Gall announces that he plans to introduce pain-nerves into the Robots' construction. The purpose of this is to allow the Robots a system of self-correction in order to avoid damaging themselves.

The difficulty is in striking a balance between giving them enough decision-making powers to perform various tasks short of giving them free will. Apparently, the human creators think that removing the Robots' ability to desire is crucial, including the desire to make choices. This would ostensibly make the Robots easier to control. By the end of the play however, Radius, Primus, and Helena the Robotess become more human in character beyond the design parameters originally set by the humans. Question #3 addresses the implications of this evolution.


3) How does it act in society and how do humans react to it in turn?

At first, the Robots function quite well according to their design specifications--they serve as laborers for humankind. Apparently, there are people throughout the world like Helena Glory who believe that the exploited Robots need emancipation. The managers take the position that concepts like exploitation and emancipation do not apply to the Robots who have no wants for themselves in the first place. The managers justify treating the Robots as they would any useful machine by this perspective. In fact, given the huge demand for the Robots, the majority of the world's population seems to be in concurrence with the managers' perspective. Humankind is content so long as the Robots fulfill their intended function.

The problem starts with giving the Robots the capability to feel pain. As mentioned before in addressing question #2, Dr. Gall introduced this aspect in the Robot's production to provide them with a system of self-correction to avoid damaging themselves. The problem with this measure is that once the Robots know suffering, they also know that it is something that they should avoid. Once the Robots have taken action to avoid suffering, then they have manifested the first signs of desire, for what else is desire except to aspire for oneself a preferred state of being? Desire leads to choices, and choices require free will.

Radius is one of the Robots given the capability to feel pain. Dr. Gall also endows him with intelligence that surpasses most other Robots and even humans. When Dr. Gall tests Radius' reaction to pain, Radius responds with the ominous line, "You do unnecessary things." This has a twofold meaning, one is merely Radius's immediate reaction to Dr. Gall's intrusive testing, and the other is more ominous in its suggestion--he is suggesting that the role of humankind is superfluous. Obviously this attitude becomes extremely threatening to the complacency that the human characters have about their ostensible sovereignty over existence. Here one sees the problem of redefinition by the creation of the creator discussed in question #1.

Ironically enough, those qualities that were once thought to be superfluous to the design of a good worker Robot, are by the end of the play found to be essential for the continuance of at least a facsimile of human existence. Alquist, the last man left alive on Earth, discovers that Primus and Helena have developed the capacity for laughter, for self-sacrifice, and by all indications, for love. By this point, he is in a position to appreciate and even to be grateful for their evolution.


4) What are the consequences within the context of the world of the work?

Out of all the managers of R.U.R., only Alquist believes that there is virtue in people having to toil. The rest of the managers think that freeing themselves from the drudgery of labor will give humankind the time to focus on self-improvement. This is their vision of a utopia. This becomes problematic, however, as the elimination of want creates unprecedented amounts of leisure which in turn transforms into idleness.

This is a dangerous mode of thinking for the human condition, because a person risks losing sight of consequences. The lack of human birthrates is one example, where humankind finds self-perpetuation becoming superfluous when there are so many Robots on hand to provide services. Peoples' false sense of complacency dulls their very instinct for survival. Even war becomes almost trivial as nations use the Robots quite liberally to fight their battles for them. However, humanity pays a heavy price for losing the value of toil and suffering while the Robots gain that knowledge. Desire begets achievement, but if all desires are met, or if there is no counterbalance of toil and suffering, then there can only be stagnation followed by an inevitable fall.


5) Does it introduce a new idea or aid in the evolution of the robot? If so, what is its contribution?

Of course the most significant contribution of this play was the introduction of the term "robot" into the lexicon, although the concept of the robot has had its antecedents as far back as classical antiquity.

The idea of a creation turning against its creator also has its antecedents before R.U.R. What is new from this play, however, is the scale of mass production of the Robots. This was no doubt significantly informed by the play having come at the tail end of World War I, a time in which nations had generated an unprecedented number of war machines. In prior literature, the relationship between the creator and the created is usually singular, and the narrative remains localized to the two involved. This play saw a large population of the Robots having a global impact, conveying consequences on a social level as well as a personal level.


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