PERCEPTION OF ROBOTS
As with many other technological discoveries, perception in the media has greatly affected their acceptance into
the public. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the perception of robots undoubtedly overshadowed the reality
of their abilities. The source of this problem is that the ideas about fictional robots block the reality of actual
This all began around the 18th century when clockwork automatons, such as the ones created by the Droz brothers, introduced the
idea of a "metal man" who could do what humans can do, to the public. From the beginning, people were separated into
two main opinions. Some people looked at this idea with a positive perspective, thinking that a "metal man" can make
their lives easier by doing the dangerous or repetitive tasks for them.
Yet some people somewhat disliked the idea of the "metal man" fearing that they would run amok and do as they
please, or take over jobs that people live on. The other great concern was the lack of ability to relate to, or
understand, humans since they have a lack of humanoid emotion. Even today, people are separated into these two groups
All these concerns are summed up very well in the play Rossum's Universal Robots or "R.U.R.", written by the Czech play
writer Karl Capek in 1920. Richard Raucci sums up the play as "(a play) which expertly sums up these prejudicial
feeling about automata (in this era)." This play is the origin of the word robot or as said in Czech, "robota", which
is Czech for worker or drone (link to synopsis). This play was not the first story or play in which robots had given a
bad impression to people but it helped set a stereotype about robots in the modern age.
But even now, in the 21st century, we are not close to making robots like the ones from R.U.R. This makes the actual
robot seem that it is lacking in capability, since they are being compared to the fictional "robots."
Another tremendous influence on the perception of robots comes from Isaac Asimov. Asimov has written over 470 science
fiction books. In 1942 he came up with "The Three Laws of Robotics," (link to glossary) which Asimov looked to as a
plot device in his books which contained robots. Asimov wrote up these laws to keep robots from exhausting the freedom
of any intelligent creature, including robots. These laws have gained strong influence, which is somewhat unfortunate
because there is no experimental evidence showing that these laws work. However, many of today's robots use these 3
One more thing about these fictional robots is that for the majority of the twentieth century, most robots were portrayed
as villains who have turned on their master rather than kind and sympathetic robots, who consider their loyalty to be
the most important thing. Most fictional robots were seen as uncontrollable beings that were metal, had raspy mono-toned
voices and wanted to cause mass destruction. Asimov portrayed robots in a more positive way showing that they contained
emotions and could sympathise with humans.
An example of a more modern view of robots in the media is well expressed in the movie "Terminator 2: Judgement Day".
In this movie, a nuclear holocaust has occurred in the 20th century. An advanced android is sent back in time to
prevent another man from the future from stopping the nuclear bomb from being detonated in the first place. This
robot known as the T-800, or the Terminator, has many advanced features such as enhanced senses, being able to alter
his voice and adapting to any situation (learning). He could lose an arm and adapt or search for keys before hotwiring
a car. We are not even close to achieving these technologies, making most people think of modern existing robots, as
being underachieving pieces of metal.