R.U.R., or Rossum's Universal Robots, is a play written in 1920 by Karel Čapek, a Czech writer who authored many plays and novels, many with science-fiction and dystopian themes. R.U.R. is perhaps the best known of these works because it brought the word robot into the English language. Robot is derived from the Czech word meaning "worker."
The play is set in the island headquarters of the R.U.R. corporation. The corporation has been manufacturing artificial beings that resemble humans but are tireless workers. They can be mass-produced in large numbers and are being adopted as laborers in many countries. In the play's first scene, they are visited by a young woman, Helena Glory, who aspires to relieve the lot of the robots, whom she sees as oppressed. However, in what must be the fastest seduction scene in all of drama, she is wooed by and agrees to marry Harry Domin, the factory manager she has just met. She still aspires to improve the life of robots and find a way to give them souls. Ultimately, however, this admirable desire leads to disaster for humankind.
The play was translated into English and slightly abridged by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair in 1923. This version quickly became popular with both British and American audiences and was well received by critics.
The play is wildly entertaining, a delight to read. But it also foreshadows many of the issues we face in the widespread use of automation and artificial intelligence. What could possibly go wrong?