The idea of a robot is very old, but the term itself is relatively new. Homer wrote of Hephaistos’ golden mechanical maid servants. In medieval Jewish lore, a man made of clay called a Golem could be brought to life to do work, or snuffed out again by inscribing words on his forehead .
In 1495, Leonardo da Vinci drew up plans for a mechanical man, and the Byzantine Emperor, suggested the poet W.B. Yeats, possessed a tree in whose golden branches artificial birds were rumored to sing .
Only in this century did the word robot see its advent. Its etymology can be traced to the Czech robota, meaning drudgery or slave labor, first used to describe artificial workers in the 1920’s play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, by Karel Capek . Created to help humans, the robots eventually take over the world. Another early rendition of robots was Fritz Lang’s Weimar film, Metropolis.
A similar theme emerges in Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, a series of short stories exploring the possibilities of robot consciousness and their interactions with humans. Surprisingly forward-seeing for 1950, the book ends with the eerie sense that the giant electronic brains the robots eventually construct are somehow extrapolating and channeling human destiny .