R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots)
By Karel Čapek
It’s ironic that what R. U. R. is best known for today is its introduction of the word “robot” into the English language, when the meaning of that word has changed so completely in the years since. Čapek’s robots aren’t machines but vat-brewed organic constructions. Politically, they are Marx’s proles, Wells’s Morlocks, or plantation zombies: human facsimiles who function as a servile underclass so that a new global aristocracy can be liberated from labour.
Of course things don’t work out. R. U. R. is a comedy of unintended consequences: as humans are freed from labour they find themselves redundant, to the point where they even (voluntarily!) give up breeding. Evolution has been directed to a dead end, and humankind, which Nietzsche thought something to be surpassed, has finally suffered that fate, having engineered itself into a position of superfluity. Meanwhile, our inheritors are left with nothing to do but to continue mass-producing crap for which there is no longer any market. The new Adam and Eve have inherited a sterile wasteland. This is the real singularity we are working toward, and, in retrospect, the best our civilization could do.