warehouse warehouse

Rossum's Universal Robots (RUR)

by Karel Čapek,  commented by Pierre Schwarzer

RUR is a science-fiction play by Karel Čapek which premiered in January 1921 in its native Prague. The robots – or rather – synthetically generated humanoids – are produced on an island as workforce for global production. Before any notion of DNA or genetic engineering was developed, the play already hinted at potential problems now posed by synthetic biology, be they consciousness or ethical questions and inspired science fiction for years to come (one could even point to the HBO-Series Westworld as taking up the general storyline of a robot rebellion in a different setting). Another interesting element of the play is its infusion with the fordist economy and its social consequences at the time, bringing up working conditions and socialization as important factors in emancipatory processes and individualization. The term „robot“, invented by Karel’s brother Josef, makes its first apparition in this very play, while the name of the factory-owner (Rossum) is an ingenious word-play on the Czech word for „reason“: rozum.

The first act, in which the President’s daughter comes to visit the factory takes ethnographic detours into various motives still present in contemporary discourse – while Simone Weil’s factory showed the hardship of factory labor, Rossums factory is in some sense a factory producing its own conditions possibility – the production process is void of humans, allowing the cost of labour to sink exponentially, fueling phantasies of self-realization (not least promoted by Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs with the Universal Basic Income) all rendered possible to some genius inventor, who, in wanting to abolish god, allowed him to return (from the side) as a myth sacrificed to productivity. Just as well, the play poses the question of the non-human-actors and their role in society a hundred years before the attempt of creating, say, autonomous forests. Albeit the text has been highly successful in its days, it has quickly been relegated to footnotes in nerdy scientific texts – we want to remediate this – with a new translation.

in case of a robot uprising - have a totalitarian colour palette ready

Robots of the world! The power of man has fallen! A new world has arisen: the Rule of the Robots! March!

ACT I (Abridged)

Central office of the factory of Rossum’s Universal Robots.

Entrance on the right. The windows on the front wall look out on the rows of factory chimneys. On the left more managing departments. DOMIN is sitting in the revolving chair at a large American writing table. On the left-hand wall large maps showing steamship and railroad routes. On the right-hand wall are fastened printed placards. (“Robot’s Cheapest Labor,” etc.) In contrast to these wall fittings, the floor is covered with a splendid Turkish carpet, a sofa, leather armchair, and filing cabinets. At a desk near the windows SULLA is typing letters.

DOMIN
(dictating)
Ready?

SULLA
Yes.

DOMIN
To E. M. McVicker and Co., Southampton, England. “We undertake no guarantee for goods damaged in transit. As soon as the consignment was taken on board we drew your captain’s attention to the fact that the vessel was unsuitable for the transport of Robots, and we are therefore not responsible for spoiled freight. We beg to remain for Rossum’s Universal Robots. Yours truly.”
(SULLA, who has sat motionless during dictation, now types rapidly for a few seconds, then stops, withdrawing the completed letter)
Ready?

SULLA
Yes

DOMIN
Another letter. To the E. B. Huyson Agency, New York, U.S.A. “We beg to acknowledge receipt of order for five thousand Robots. As you are sending your own vessel, please dispatch as cargo equal quantities of soft and hard coal for R.!U.!R., the same to be credited as part payment of the amount due to us. We beg to remain, for Rossum’s Universal Robots. Yours truly.”
(SULLA repeats the rapid typing)
Ready?

SULLA
Yes.

DOMIN
Another letter. “Friedrichswerke, Hamburg, Germany. We beg to acknowledge receipt of order for fifteen thousand Robots.”
(Telephone rings)
Hello! This is the Central Office. Yes. Certainly. Well, send them a wire. Good.(Hangs up telephone)
Where did I leave off?

SULLA
“We beg to acknowledge receipt of order for fifteen thousand Robots.”

DOMIN
Fifteen thousand R. Fifteen thousand R.
(Enter MARIUS)
Well, what is it?

MARIUS
There’s a lady, sir, asking to see you.

DOMIN
A lady? Who is she?

MARIUS
I don’t know, sir. She brings this card of introduction.

DOMIN
(reads the card)
Ah, from President Glory. Ask her to come in.

MARIUS
Please step this way.

Enter HELENA GLORY. Exit MARIUS.

The book cover in its 1921 Edition

HELENA
How do you do?

DOMIN
How do you do.
(Standing up)
What can I do for you?

HELENA
You are Mr. Domin, the General Manager.

DOMIN
I am.

HELENA
I have come!––

DOMIN
With President Glory’s card. That is quite sufficient.

HELENA
President Glory is my father. I am Helena Glory.

DOMIN
Miss Glory, this is such a great honor for us to be allowed to!–– welcome our great President’s daughter, that!––

HELENA
That you can’t show me the door?

DOMIN
Please sit down. Sulla, you may go.
(Exit SULLA. Sitting down)
How can I be of service to you, Miss Glory?

HELENA
I have come!––

DOMIN
To have a look at our famous works where people are manufactured. Like all visitors. Well, there is no objection.

HELENA
I thought it was forbidden to!––

DOMIN
To enter the factory. Yes, of course. Everybody comes here with someone’s visiting card, Miss Glory.

HELENA
And you show them!––

DOMIN
Only certain things. The manufacture of artificial people is a secret process

HELENA
If you only knew how enormously that!––

DOMIN
Interests me. Europe’s talking about nothing else.

HELENA
Why don’t you let me finish speaking?

DOMIN
I beg your pardon. Did you want to say something different?

HELENA
I only wanted to ask!––

DOMIN
Whether I could make a special exception in your case and show you our factory. Why, certainly Miss Glory.

HELENA
How do you know I wanted to say that?

DOMIN
They all do. But we shall consider it a special honor to show you more than we do the rest.

HELENA
Thank you.

DOMIN
But you must agree not to divulge the least…

HELENA
(standing up and giving him her hand)
My word of honor.

DOMIN
Thank you. Won’t you raise your veil?

HELENA
Of course. You want to see whether I’m a spy or not. I beg your pardon.

DOMIN
What is it?

HELENA
Would you mind releasing my hand?

DOMIN
(releasing it)
I beg your pardon.

HELENA
(raising her veil)
How cautious you have to be here, don’t you?

DOMIN
(observing her with deep interest)
Hm, of course!–– we!–– that is!––

HELENA
But what is it? What’s the matter?

DOMIN
I’m remarkably pleased. Did you have a pleasant crossing?

HELENA
Yes.

DOMIN
No difficulty?

HELENA
Why?

DOMIN
What I mean to say is!–– you’re so young.

HELENA
May we go straight into the factory?

DOMIN
Yes. Twenty-two, I think.

HELENA
Twenty-two what?

DOMIN
Years.

HELENA
Twenty-one. Why do you want to know?

DOMIN
Because!–– as!––
(with enthusiasm)
you will make a long stay, won’t you?

HELENA
That depends on how much of the factory you show me.

DOMIN
Oh, hang the factory. Oh, no, no, you shall see everything, Miss Glory. Indeed you shall. Won’t you sit down?

HELENA
(crossing to couch and sitting)
Thank you.

DOMIN
But first would you like to hear the story of the invention? [Read on]

A poster from gloomy 1939

HELENA
Yes, indeed.

DOMIN
(observes HELENA with rapture and reels off rapidly)
It was in the year 1920 that old Rossum, the great physiologist, who was then quite a young scientist, took himself to this distant island for the purpose of studying the ocean fauna, full stop. On this occasion he attempted by chemical synthesis to imitate the living matter known as protoplasm until he suddenly discovered a substance which behaved exactly like living matter although its chemical composition was different. That was in the year of 1932, exactly four hundred forty years after the discovery of America. Whew!

HELENA
Do you know that by heart?

DOMIN
Yes. You see physiology is not in my line. Shall I go on?

HELENA
Yes, please.

DOMIN
And then, Miss Glory, old Rossum wrote the following among his chemical specimens: “Nature has found only one method of organizing living matter. There is, however, another method, more simple, flexible and rapid, which has not yet occurred to nature at all. This second process by which life can be developed was discovered by me today.” Now imagine him, Miss Glory, writing those wonderful words over some colloidal mess that a dog wouldn’t look at. Imagine him sitting over a test tube, and thinking how the whole tree of life would grow from it, how all animals would proceed from it, beginning with some sort of beetle and ending with a man. A man of different substance from us. Miss Glory, that was a tremendous moment.

HELENA
Well?

DOMIN
Now, the thing was how to get the life out of the test tubes, and hasten development and form organs, bones and nerves, and so on, and find such substances as catalytics, enzymes, hormones, and so forth, in short!–– you understand?

HELENA
Not much, I’m afraid.

DOMIN
Never mind. You see with the help of his tinctures he could make whatever he wanted. He could have produced a Medusa with the brain of a Socrates or a worm fifty yards long. But being without a grain of humour, he took it into his head to make a vertebrate or perhaps a man. This artificial living matter of his had a raging thirst for life. It didn’t mind being sewn or mixed together. That couldn’t be done with natural albumen. And that’s how he set about it.

HELENA
About what?

DOMIN
About imitating nature. First of all he tried making an artificial dog. That took him several years and resulted in a sort of stunted calf which died in a few days. I’ll show it to you in the museum. And then old Rossum started on the manufacture of man.

HELENA
And I must divulge this to nobody?

DOMIN
To nobody in the world.

HELENA
What a pity that it’s to be found in all the school books of both Europe and America.

DOMIN
Yes. But do you know what isn’t in the school books? That old Rossum was mad. Seriously, Miss Glory, you must keep this to yourself. The old crank wanted to actually make people.

HELENA
But you do make people.

DOMIN
Approximately, Miss Glory. But old Rossum meant it literally. He wanted to become a sort of scientific substitute for God. He was a fearful materialist, and that’s why he did it all. His sole purpose was nothing more nor less than to prove that God was no longer necessary. Do you know anything about anatomy?

HELENA
Very little.

DOMIN
Neither do I. Well, he then decided to manufacture everything as in the human body. I’ll show you in the museum the bungling attempt it took him ten years to produce. It was to have been a man, but it lived for three days only. Then up came young Rossum, an engineer. He was a wonderful fellow, Miss Glory. When he saw what a mess of it the old man was making, he said: “It’s absurd to spend ten years making a man. If you can’t make him quicker than nature, you might as well shut up shop.” Then he set about learning anatomy himself.

HELENA
There’s nothing about that in the school books.

DOMIN
No. The school books are full of paid advertisements, and rubbish at that. What the school books say about the united efforts of the two great Rossums is all a fairy tale. They used to have dreadful rows. The old atheist hadn’t the slightest conception of industrial matters, and the end of it was that young Rossum shut him up in some laboratory or other and let him fritter the time away with his monstrosities, while he himself started on the business from an engineer’s point of view. Old Rossum cursed him and before he died he managed to botch up two physiological horrors. Then one day they found him dead in the laboratory. And that’s his whole story.

HELENA
And what about the young man?

DOMIN
Well, any one who has looked into human anatomy will have seen at once that man is too complicated, and that a good engineer could make him more simply. So young Rossum began to overhaul anatomy and tried to see what could be left out or simplified. In short!–– but this isn’t boring you, Miss Glory?

HELENA
No indeed. You’re!–– it’s awfully interesting.

DOMIN
So young Rossum said to himself: “A man is something that feels happy, plays the piano, likes going for a walk, and in fact, wants to do a whole lot of things that are really unnecessary.”

HELENA
Oh.

DOMIN
That are unnecessary when he wants, let us say, to weave or count. Do you play the piano?

HELENA
Yes.

DOMIN
That’s good. But a working machine must not play the piano, must not feel happy, must not do a whole lot of other things. A gasoline motor must not have tassels or ornaments, Miss Glory. And to manufacture artificial workers is the same thing as to manufacture gasoline motors. The process must be of the simplest, and the product of the best from a practical point of view. What sort of worker do you think is the best from a practical point of view?

HELENA
What?

DOMIN
What sort of worker do you think is the best from a practical point of view?

HELENA
Perhaps the one who is most honest and hardworking.

DOMIN
No; the one that is the cheapest. The one whose requirements are the smallest. Young Rossum invented a worker with the minimum amount of requirements. He had to simplify him. He rejected everything that did not contribute directly to the progress of work!–– everything that makes man more expensive. In fact, he rejected man and made the Robot. My dear Miss Glory, the Robots are not people. Mechanically they are more perfect than we are, they have an enormously developed intelligence, but they have no soul.

HELENA
How do you know they’ve no soul?

DOMIN
Have you ever seen what a Robot looks like inside?

HELENA
No.

DOMIN
Very neat, very simple. Really, a beautiful piece of work. Not much in it, but everything in flawless order. The product of an engineer is technically at a higher pitch of perfection than a product of nature.

HELENA
But man is supposed to be the product of God.

DOMIN
All the worse. God hasn’t the least notion of modern engineering. Would you believe that young Rossum then proceeded to play at being God?

HELENA
How do you mean?

DOMIN
He began to manufacture Super-Robots. Regular giants they were. He tried to make them twelve feet tall. But you wouldn’t believe what a failure they were.

HELENA
A failure?

DOMIN
Yes. For no reason at all their limbs used to keep snapping off. Evidently our planet is too small for giants. Now we only make Robots of normal size and of very high class human finish.

HELENA
I saw the first Robots at home. The town counsel bought them for!–– I mean engaged them for work.

DOMIN
Bought them, dear Miss Glory. Robots are bought and sold.

HELENA
These were employed as street sweepers. I saw them sweeping. They were so strange and quiet.

DOMIN
Rossum’s Universal Robot factory doesn’t produce a uniform brand of Robots. We have Robots of finer and coarser grades. The best will live about twenty years.
He rings for MARIUS.[Read on]

How we might end up

HELENA
Then they die?

DOMIN
Yes, they get used up.
(Enter MARIUS)
Marius, bring in samples of the Manual Labor Robot.
(Exit MARIUS)
I’ll show you specimens of the two extremes. This first grade is comparatively inexpensive and is made in vast quantities.
(MARIUS reenters with two Manual Labor ROBOTS)
There you are; as powerful as a small tractor. Guaranteed to have average intelligence. That will do, Marius.
MARIUS exits with ROBOTS.

HELENA
They make me feel so strange.

DOMIN
(rings)
Did you see my new typist?
He rings for SULLA.

HELENA
I didn’t notice her.

Enter SULLA.

DOMIN
Sulla, let Miss Glory see you.

HELENA
So pleased to meet you. You must find it terribly dull in this out-of-the-way spot, don’t you?

SULLA
I don’t know, Miss Glory.

HELENA
Where do you come from?

SULLA
From the factory.

HELENA
Oh, you were born there?

SULLA
I was made there.

HELENA
What?

DOMIN
(laughing)
Sulla is a Robot, best grade.

HELENA
Oh, I beg your pardon.

DOMIN
Sulla isn’t angry. See, Miss Glory, the kind of skin we make.
(Feels the skin on Sulla’s face)
Feel her face.

HELENA
Oh, no, no.

DOMIN
You wouldn’t know that she’s made of different material from us, would you? Turn round, Sulla.

HELENA
Oh, stop, stop.

DOMIN
Talk to Miss Glory, Sulla.

SULLA
Please sit down.
(HELENA sits)
Did you have a pleasant crossing?

HELENA
Oh, yes, certainly.

SULLA
Don’t go back on the Amelia, Miss Glory. The barometer is falling steadily. Wait for the Pennsylvania. That’s a good, powerful vessel.

DOMIN
What’s its speed?

SULLA
Twenty knots. Fifty thousand tons. One of the latest vessels, Miss Glory.

HELENA
Thank you.

SULLA
A crew of fifteen hundred, Captain Harpy, eight boilers!––

DOMIN
That’ll do, Sulla. Now show us your knowledge of French.

HELENA
You know French?

SULLA
I know four languages. I can write: Dear Sir, Monsieur, Geehrter Herr, Cteny pane.

HELENA
(jumping up)
Oh, that’s absurd! Sulla isn’t a Robot. Sulla is a girl like me. Sulla, this is outrageous! Why do you take part in such a hoax?

SULLA
I am a Robot.

HELENA
No, no, you are not telling the truth. I know they’ve forced you to do it for an advertisement. Sulla, you are a girl like me, aren’t you?

DOMIN
I’m sorry, Miss Glory. Sulla is a Robot.

HELENA
It’s a lie!

DOMIN
What?
(Rings)
Excuse me, Miss Glory, then I must convince you.

Enter MARIUS.

DOMIN
Marius, take Sulla into the dissecting room, and tell them to open her up at once.

HELENA
Where?

DOMIN
Into the dissecting room. When they’ve cut her open, you can go and have a look.

HELENA
No, no!

DOMIN
Excuse me, you spoke of lies.

HELENA
You wouldn’t have her killed?

DOMIN
You can’t kill machines.

HELENA
Don’t be afraid, Sulla, I won’t let you go. Tell me, my dear, are they always so cruel to you? You mustn’t put up with it, Sulla. You mustn’t.

SULLA
I am a Robot.

HELENA
That doesn’t matter. Robots are just as good as we are. Sulla, you wouldn’t let yourself be cut to pieces?

SULLA
Yes.

HELENA
Oh, you’re not afraid of death, then?

SULLA
I cannot tell, Miss Glory.

HELENA
Do you know what would happen to you in there?

SULLA
Yes, I should cease to move.

HELENA
How dreadful!

DOMIN
Marius, tell Miss Glory what you are.

MARIUS
Marius, the Robot.

DOMIN
Would you take Sulla into the dissecting room?

MARIUS
Yes.

DOMIN
Would you be sorry for her?

MARIUS
I cannot tell.

DOMIN
What would happen to her?

MARIUS
She would cease to move. They would put her into the stamping-mill.

DOMIN
That is death, Marius. Aren’t you afraid of death?

MARIUS
No.

DOMIN
You see, Miss Glory, the Robots have no interest in life. They have no enjoyments. They are less than so much grass.

HELENA
Oh, stop. Send them away.

DOMIN
Marius, Sulla, you may go.

Exeunt SULLA and MARIUS. [Read on]

Rent this beautifully designed stage now on AirBnB

HELENA
How terrible! It’s outrageous what you are doing.

DOMIN
Why outrageous?

HELENA
I don’t know, but it is. Why do you call her Sulla?

DOMIN
Isn’t it a nice name?

HELENA
It’s a man’s name. Sulla was a Roman general.

DOMIN
Oh, we thought that Marius and Sulla were lovers.

HELENA
Marius and Sulla were generals and fought against each other in the year!–– I’ve forgotten now.

DOMIN
Come here to the window.

HELENA
What?

DOMIN
Come here. What do you see?

HELENA
Bricklayers.

DOMIN
Robots. All our work people are Robots. And down there, can you see anything?

HELENA
Some sort of office.

DOMIN
A counting house. And in it!––

HELENA
A lot of officials.

DOMIN
Robots. All our officials are Robots. And when you see the factory!––
(Factory whistle blows)
Noon. We have to blow the whistle because the Robots don’t know when to stop work. In two hours I will show you the kneading trough.

HELENA
Kneading trough?

DOMIN
The pestle for beating up the paste. In each one we mix the ingredients for a thousand Robots at one operation. Then there are the vats for the preparation of liver, brains, and so on. Then you will see the bone factory. After that I’ll show you the spinning mill.

HELENA
Spinning mill?

DOMIN
Yes. For weaving nerves and veins. Miles and miles of digestive tubes pass through it at a time.

HELENA
Mayn’t we talk about something else?

DOMIN
Perhaps it would be better. There’s only a handful of us among a hundred thousand Robots, and not one woman. We talk about nothing but the factory all day, every day. It’s just as if we were under a curse, Miss Glory.

HELENA
I’m sorry I said that you were lying.

A knock at the door.

DOMIN
Come in.

[Read on]

... with a colourful living room!

From the right enter MR. FABRY, DR. GALL, DR. HALLEMEIER, MR. ALQUIST.

DR GALL
I beg your pardon, I hope we don’t intrude.

DOMIN
Come in. Miss Glory, here are Alquist, Fabry, Gall, Hallemeier. This is President Glory’s daughter.

HELENA
How do you do.

FABRY
We had no idea!––

DR GALL
Highly honored, I’m sure!––

ALQUIST
Welcome, Miss Glory.

BUSMAN rushes in from the right.

BUSMAN
Hello, what’s up?

DOMIN
Come in, Busman. This is Busman, Miss Glory. This is President Glory’s daughter.

BUSMAN
By Jove, that’s fine! Miss Glory, may we send a cablegram to the papers about your arrival?

HELENA
No, no, please don’t.

DOMIN
Sit down please, Miss Glory.

BUSMAN
Allow me!––
(Dragging up armchairs)

DR GALL
Please!––

FABRY
Excuse me!––

ALQUIST
What sort of a crossing did you have?

DR GALL
Are you going to stay long?

FABRY
What do you think of the factory, Miss Glory?

HALLEMEIER
Did you come over on the Amelia?

DOMIN
Be quiet and let Miss Glory speak.

HELENA
(to DOMIN)
What am I to speak to them about?

DOMIN
Anything you like.

HELENA
Shall… may I speak quite frankly?

DOMIN
Why, of course.

HELENA
(wavering, then in desperate resolution)
Tell me, doesn’t it ever distress you the way you are treated?

FABRY
By whom, may I ask?

HELENA
Why, everybody.

ALQUIST
Treated?

DR GALL
What makes you think!–– ?

HELENA
Don’t you feel that you might be living a better life?

DR GALL
Well, that depends on what you mean, Miss Glory.

HELENA
I mean that it’s perfectly outrageous. It’s terrible.
(Standing up)
The whole of Europe is talking about the way you’re being treated. That’s why I came here, to see for myself, and it’s a thousand times worse than could have been imagined. How can you put up with it?

ALQUIST
Put up with what?

HELENA
Good heavens, you are living creatures, just like us, like the whole of Europe, like the whole world. It’s disgraceful that you must live like this.

BUSMAN
Good gracious, Miss Glory.

FABRY
Well, she’s not far wrong. We live here just like red Indians.

HELENA
Worse than red Indians. May I, oh, may I call you brothers?

BUSMAN
Why not?

HELENA
Brothers, I have not come here as the President’s daughter. I have come on behalf of the Humanity League. Brothers, the Humanity League now has over two hundred thousand members. Two hundred thousand people are on your side, and offer you their help.

BUSMAN
Two hundred thousand people! Miss Glory, that’s a tidy lot. Not bad.

FABRY
I’m always telling you there’s nothing like good old Europe. You see, they’ve not forgotten us. They’re offering us help.

DR GALL
What help? A theatre, for instance?

HALLEMEIER
An orchestra?

HELENA
More than that.

ALQUIST
Just you?

HELENA
Oh, never mind about me. I’ll stay as long as it is necessary.

BUSMAN
By Jove, that’s good.

ALQUIST
Domin, I’m going to get the best room ready for Miss Glory.

DOMIN
Just a minute. I’m afraid that Miss Glory is of the opinion that she has been talking to Robots.

HELENA
Of course.

DOMIN
I’m sorry. These gentlemen are human beings just like us.

HELENA
You’re not Robots?

BUSMAN
Not Robots.

HALLEMEIER
Robots indeed!

DR GALL
No, thanks.

FABRY
Upon my honor, Miss Glory, we aren’t Robots.

HELENA
(to DOMIN)
Then why did you tell me that all your officials are Robots?

DOMIN
Yes, the officials, but not the managers. Allow me, Miss Glory: this is Mr. Fabry, General Technical Manager of R.U.R.; Dr. Gall, Head of the Psychological and Experimental Department; Dr. Hallemeier, Head of the Institute for the Psychological Training of Robots; Consul Busman, General Business Manager; and Alquist, Head of the Building Department of RUR.

ALQUIST
Just a builder.

HELENA
Excuse me, gentlemen, for!–– for!–– . Have I done something dreadful?

ALQUIST
Not at all, Miss Glory. Please sit down.

HELENA
I’m a stupid girl. Send me back by the first ship.

DR GALL
Not for anything in the world, Miss Glory. Why should we send you back?

HELENA
Because you know I’ve come to disturb your Robots for you.

DOMIN
My dear Miss Glory, we’ve had close upon a hundred saviours and prophets here. Every ship brings us some. Missionaries, anarchists, Salvation Army, all sorts. It’s astonishing what a number of churches and idiots there are in the world.

HELENA
And you let them speak to the Robots?

DOMIN
So far we’ve let them all, why not? The Robots remember everything, but that’s all. They don’t even laugh at what the people say. Really, it is quite incredible. If it would amuse you, Miss Glory, I’ll take you over to the Robot warehouse. It holds about three hundred thousand of them.

BUSMAN
Three hundred and forty-seven thousand.

DOMIN
Good! And you can say whatever you like to them. You can read the Bible, recite the multiplication table, whatever you please. You can even preach to them about human rights.

HELENA
Oh, I think that if you were to show them a little love!––

FABRY
Impossible, Miss Glory. Nothing is harder to like than a Robot.

HELENA
What do you make them for, then?

BUSMAN
Ha, ha, ha, that’s good! What are Robots made for?

FABRY
For work, Miss Glory! One Robot can replace two and a half workmen. The human machine, Miss Glory, was terribly imperfect. It had to be removed sooner or later.

BUSMAN
It was too expensive.

FABRY
It was not effective. It no longer answers the requirements of modern engineering. Nature has no idea of keeping pace with modern labour. For example: from a technical point of view, the whole of childhood is a sheer absurdity. So much time lost. And then again!––

HELENA
Oh, no! No!

FABRY
Pardon me. But kindly tell me what is the real aim of your League!–– the… the Humanity League.

HELENA
Its real purpose is to!–– to protect the Robots!–– and!–– and ensure good treatment for them.

FABRY
Not a bad object, either. A machine has to be treated properly. Upon my soul, I approve of that. I don’t like damaged articles. Please, Miss Glory, enroll us all as contributing, or regular, or foundation members of your League.

HELENA
No, you don’t understand me. What we really want is to!–– to liberate the Robots.

HALLEMEIER
How do you propose to do that?

HELENA
They are to be!–– to be dealt with like human beings.

HALLEMEIER
Aha. I suppose they’re to vote? To drink beer? to order us about?

HELENA
Why shouldn’t they drink beer?

HALLEMEIER
Perhaps they’re even to receive wages?

HELENA
Of course they are.

HALLEMEIER
Fancy that, now! And what would they do with their wages, pray?

HELENA
They would buy!–– what they need… what pleases them…

HALLEMEIER
That would be very nice, Miss Glory, only there’s nothing that does please the Robots. Good heavens, what are they to buy? You can feed them on pineapples, straw, whatever you like. It’s all the same to them, they’ve no appetite at all. They’ve no interest in anything, Miss Glory. Why, hang it all, nobody’s ever yet seen a Robot smile.

HELENA
Why… why don’t you make them happier?

HALLEMEIER
That wouldn’t do, Miss Glory. They are only workmen.

HELENA
Oh, but they’re so intelligent.

HALLEMEIER
Confoundedly so, but they’re nothing else. They’ve no will of their own. No passion. No soul.

HELENA
No love?

HALLEMEIER
Love? Rather not. Robots don’t love. Not even themselves.

HELENA
Nor defiance?

HALLEMEIER
Defiance? I don’t know. Only rarely, from time to time.

HELENA
What?

HALLEMEIER
Nothing particular. Occasionally they seem to go off their heads. Something like epilepsy, you know. It’s called Robot’s cramp. They’ll suddenly sling down everything they’re holding, stand still, gnash their teeth!–– and then they have to go into the stamping-mill. It’s evidently some breakdown in the mechanism.

DOMIN
A flaw in the works that has to be removed.

HELENA
No, no, that’s the soul.

FABRY
Do you think that the soul first shows itself by a gnashing of teeth?

HELENA
Perhaps it’s a sort of revolt. Perhaps it’s just a sign that there’s a struggle within. Oh, if you could infuse them with it!

DOMIN
That’ll be remedied, Miss Glory. Dr. Gall is just making some experiments!––

DR GALL
Not with regard to that, Domin. At present I am making pain-nerves.

HELENA
Pain-nerves?

DR GALL
Yes, the Robots feel practically no bodily pain. You see, young Rossum provided them with too limited a nervous system. We must introduce suffering.

HELENA
Why do you want to cause them pain?

DR GALL
For industrial reasons, Miss Glory. Sometimes a Robot does damage to himself because it doesn’t hurt him. He puts his hand into the machine, breaks his finger, smashes his head, its all the same to him. We must provide them with pain.
That’s an automatic protection against damage.

HELENA
Will they be happier when they feel pain?

DR GALL
On the contrary; but they will be more perfect from a technical point of view.

HELENA
Why don’t you create a soul for them?

DR GALL

That’s not in our power.

FABRY
That’s not in our interest.

BUSMAN
That would increase the cost of production. Hang it all, my dear young lady, we turn them out at such a cheap rate. A hundred and fifty dollars each fully dressed, and fifteen years ago they cost ten thousand. Five years ago we used to buy the clothes for them. To-day we have our own weaving mill, and now we even export cloth five times cheaper than other factories. What do you pay a yard for cloth, Miss Glory?

HELENA
I don’t know really, I’ve forgotten.

BUSMAN
Good gracious, and you want to found a Humanity League? It only costs a third now, Miss Glory. All prices are today a third of what they were and they’ll fall still lower, lower, lower, like that.

HELENA
I don’t understand.

BUSMAN
Why, bless you, Miss Glory, it means that the cost of labor has fallen. A Robot, food and all, costs three quarters of a cent per hour. That’s mighty important, you know. All factories will go pop like chestnuts if they don’t at once buy Robots to lower the cost of production.

HELENA
And get rid of their workmen?

BUSMAN
Of course. But in the meantime, we’ve dumped five hundred thousand tropical Robots down on the Argentine pampas to grow corn. Would you mind telling me how much you pay a pound for bread?

HELENA
I’ve no idea.

BUSMAN
We’ll I’ll tell you. It now costs two cents in good old Europe. A pound of bread for two cents, and the Humanity League knows nothing about it. Miss Glory, you don’t realize that even that’s too expensive. Why, in five years’ time I’ll wager!––

HELENA
What?

BUSMAN
That the cost of everything won’t be a tenth of what it is now. Why, in five years we’ll be up to our ears in corn and everything else.

ALQUIST
Yes, and all the workers throughout the world will be employed.

DOMIN
Yes, Alquist, they will. Yes, Miss Glory, they will. But in ten years Rossum’s Universal Robots will produce so much corn, so much cloth, so much everything, that things will be practically without price. There will be no poverty. All work will be done by living machines. Everybody will be free from worry and liberated from the degradation of labor. Everybody will live only to perfect himself.

HELENA
Will he?

DOMIN
Of course. It’s bound to happen. But then the servitude of man to man and the enslavement of man to matter will cease. Of course, terrible things may happen at first, but that simply can’t be avoided. Nobody will get bread at the price of life and hatred. The Robots will wash the feet of the beggar and prepare a bed for him in his house.

ALQUIST
Domin, Domin. What you say sounds too much like Paradise. There was something good in service and something great in humility. There was some kind of virtue in toil and weariness.

DOMIN
Perhaps. But we cannot reckon with what is lost when we start out to transform the world. Man shall be free and supreme; he shall have no other aim, no other labor, no other care than to perfect himself. He shall serve neither matter nor man. He will not be a machine and a device for production. He will be Lord of creation.

BUSMAN
Amen.

FABRY
So be it.

HELENA
You have bewildered me!–– I should like!–– I should like to believe this.

DR GALL
You are younger than we are, Miss Glory. You will live to see it.

HALLEMEIER
True. Don’t you think Miss Glory might lunch with us?

DR GALL
Of course. Domin, ask on behalf of us all.

DOMIN
Miss Glory, will you do us the honor?

HELENA
When you know why I’ve come!––

FABRY
For the League of Humanity, Miss Glory.

HELENA
Oh, in that case, perhaps!––

FABRY
That’s fine! Miss Glory, excuse me for five minutes.

DR GALL
Pardon me, too, dear Miss Glory.

BUSMAN
I won’t be long.

HALLEMEIER
We’re all very glad you’ve come.

BUSMAN
We’ll be back in exactly five minutes.

All rush out except DOMIN and HELENA.

HELENA
What have they all gone off for?

DOMIN
To cook, Miss Glory.

HELENA
To cook what?

DOMIN
Lunch. The Robots do our cooking for us and as they’ve no taste it’s not altogether!–– Hallemeier is awfully good at grills and Gall can make a kind of sauce, and Busman knows all about omelettes.

HELENA
What a feast! And what’s the specialty of Mr.!–– your builder?

DOMIN
Alquist? Nothing. He only lays the table. And Fabry will get together a little fruit. Our cuisine is very modest, Miss Glory.

HELENA
I wanted to ask you something!––

DOMIN
And I wanted to ask you something, too.
(Looking at watch)
Five minutes.

HELENA
What did you want to ask me?

DOMIN
Excuse me, you asked first.

HELENA
Perhaps it’s silly of me, but why do you manufacture female Robots when!–– when!––

DOMIN
When sex means nothing to them?

HELENA
Yes.

DOMIN
There’s a certain demand for them, you see. Servants, saleswomen, stenographers. People are used to it.

HELENA
But!–– but, tell me, are the Robots male and female mutually!–– completely without!––

DOMIN
Completely indifferent to each other, Miss Glory. There’s no sign of any affection between them.

HELENA
Oh, that’s terrible.

DOMIN
Why?

HELENA
It’s so unnatural. One doesn’t know whether to be disgusted or to hate them, or perhaps!––

DOMIN
To pity them?

HELENA
That’s more like it. What did you want to ask me about?

DOMIN
I should like to ask you, Miss Helena, whether you will marry me?

END OF ACT 1