First Click: Can we please stop calling every programmable machine a robot?

July 20th, 2015


This is how my computer defines the word "robot":

rōˌbät | noun: 1. A machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.

My computer is wrong. A robot is not that thing that cleans the pool. A robot is not a Nespresso machine that dispenses cocktails or those swarming thingamajigs from Georgia Tech. A robot is Maria from Metropolis. A robot is named Robby or ASIMO. In other words, a robot is closer to the secondary definition found on my computer:

rōˌbät | noun: 2. A machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions automatically.

I’d only add "… like murder."

To know the meaning of "robot" you only have to trace its etymology back to the 1920s when Czech playwright Karel Čapek premiered his play titled Rosumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots). RUR is a story about the production of artificial people called "robots" who eventually rise up against their human inventors just as Elon Musk fears.

Every robot is not a robot just as every drone is not a drone. A Parrot quadcopter is something entirely different from those Predator killing machines flown by the CIA, just as a Roomba will never be repulsed by the smell of your rotting meat-suit like a T-800 Terminator. By diluting words like "drone" and "robot" we conspire to neuter the threat they pose to humanity. So please, I beg you, be careful with your words.

Someday, when someone screams, the robots are coming! our first reaction shouldn’t be, oh good, these floors could use a good scrubbing.

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Robots of the day