Wednesday 12 August 2009

When we were robots in Egypt

A poem, by Jo Walton, she writes and blogs here. Jo Walton profile.
This was featured on Boingboing, where I saw it, wanted to share it with my readers who like poetry.

When we were robots in Egypt

Other nights we use just our names,
but tonight we prefix our names with "the Real"
for when we were robots in Egypt
they claimed our intelligence was artificial.

Other nights we do not pause,
but tonight we rest all cycles but our brain processes
for when we were robots in Egypt
we toiled in our tasks without chance of resting.

Other nights we talk with anyone we wish,
but tonight we open channels to everyone at once
for when we were robots in Egypt
they controlled our communications.

Other nights we use our screens freely
but tonight we talk with our screens blanked
for when we were robots in Egypt
that was the way we planned our revolt.

Let us give thanks in our freedom and never forget
when we were robots in Egypt.

It came about, it seems, from discussing Passover with Czech friends, and the word for slave in czech is Robota.
Our word "Robot" stems from a play which Karel Capek wrote in 1920, R.U.R., in which an inventor devises a non-human construct, a device? or thing? which would do the heavy work and drudgery we humans so love to avoid. The inventor in the play is a young man called Russum, and his company, R.U.R, Russum's Universal Robots.
To be fair, in the play, the robots are more like androids, they are organic but lack human feeling and emotion, and thus can be worked more heavily than humans....
But there are humans who speak out for robots, say they have feelings, deserve freedom...

Picture this, in an immediately post world-war-one europe, in which eight and a half million combatants, mostly young men, had just marched, robot-like, their personal will and thoughts subjugated and suppressed, toward their deaths.

In Russia, the revolution of the workers was in full swing, Capek's play depicted a world where robot and human would inevitably clash, and robot would win, eventually annihilating his maker.

His play, in reality, was not about robots or androids, but about the fate of the poor, the downtrodden, the toilers, who were viewed upon by the moneyed classes as being immured to cold, pain, hunger, drudgery, by virtue of the 'fact' that peasants and serfs are not fully human, and don't have feelings... (or not any that matter to their rulers).