One hundred years ago, it was Czech playwright and essayist Karel Čapek who first used the word Robot in his play Rossumovi Universal ni Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots), popularly known for its acronym as R.U.R.

Launch Poster of the R.U.R. book (Embassy of the Czech Republic)

R.U.R, a play involving a factory that builds artificial people who would become servants to humans, had its inaugural staging at the Czech National Theatre on January 25, 1921, and has since been translated and performed in more than 30 countries.

While Čapek was credited to be the first person to have used the term, it was his brother Josef, a cubist painter, who had come up with the term which came from the Slavic word ‘Robota’ that means “serfdom” or “forced labor” and perfectly encompasses the play.

To the delight of Filipino bookworms, the Czech Embassy in Manila, in cooperation with Ateneo de Naga University Press, is issuing the Filipino translation of “R.U.R.” drama by Čapek to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the birth of the word Robot in the play.

Čapek who was then an emerging literary star in Czechoslovakia at the time of writing of the play used the term “Robot” to describe the “artificial workers” and “living and intelligent working machines”.

This three-act drama skillfully portrayed the potentially vicious influence of technology in a society where modernity is controlled not by ideas and values, but by self-confident and ruthless intellect and greed. As the word “Robot”, birthed through the creative process of delivering a satirical take on the influence of technology in modern society, celebrates its centennial anniversary, the essence of the play has become more relevant today in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Filipino translation of the R.U.R. book was done by the late Filipino novelist, playwright, and short-story writer Rogelio Sicat, and will be launched virtually on May 1, 2021 via Facebook Live by the Ateneo de Naga University Press. Designed by Ryan Cuatrona, the book also contains illustrations by John Sherwin Acampado.

Czech Ambassador Jana Šedivá said it is the aim and passion of the Czech Embassy in Manila to promote the usage of the mother tongue in the Philippines and to introduce masterpieces of the Czech language in local languages.

“R.U.R. by Karel Čapek is a real jewelry of Czech classical literature and I am pleased that Filipino readers can now read this extraordinary book in Filipino,” the Czech diplomat said in a statement.

Over the past several years, cultural relationships between the two countries saw the translation of several Czech literary pieces into Filipino in partnership with Ateneo de Naga University Press, namely, Patid: Mga Kontemporaneong Kwento ng mga Czech at Slovak na Manunulat, and Malikmata: Mga Kuwentong Kababalaghan Mula Czech Republic.

“This translation of Karel Capek by one of the country’s topmost Filipino writers, Rogelio Sicat, is a welcome addition to the growing titles we have that is borne out of this friendship,” says Kristian Cordero, Deputy Director of Ateneo de Naga University Press.