Robots don’t need to be in scientific journals or technical documentations only, they are also very popular in fictional literature. There have been stories about “artificial beings” for centuries. But it was not until the advanced technological evolution that brought beings into literature which come close to today’s image of a robot. For example, the term “android” was coined by the character Hadaly, a mechanical woman who was powered by electricity, from the novel “The Future Eve” by French author Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam in 1886. From that time on, robots and androids became integral parts of literature.
The first time that the term “robot” was used in literature, was in the 1920 drama “R.U.R. – Rossum’s Universal Robots”. The work of Czech author Karel Čapek is about a company that produces robots which are workers without rights and after a while start a rebellion to extinct mankind. The story was later picked up by Hollywood and used in science fiction movies like “The Matrix” or “The Terminator”.
Isaac Asimov & the laws of robotics
One of the most famous authors of science fiction and robot literature is Isaac Asimov (✝1992). The Russian-born worked as a professor of biochemistry at Boston University and already started to be interested in science fiction at a young age. In 1939, he published his first short story. During his lifetime, Asimov published several non-fictional books, detective stories and robot literature like the compilation of short stories with the title “I, Robot” from 1952. In one of his early short story “Runaround” (1942) Asimov coined the three laws of robotics which set some kind of ground rule for robots for the first time and are still relevant today. The three laws are:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws
Robots in children and youth literature
Of course, kids love robots, too. That’s why they are also featured in many novels and stories for children and young adults. One of the most famous examples is the German book “Schlupp vom grünen Stern” (1974) by author Ellis Kraut. It is about a little robot from the planet Balda 7/3 that suddenly develops feelings and even a soul. Since this is being considered a failure, the authorities want to send him to a trash planet. But he somehow lands on earth where he befriends with the 14-year-old Benni and they experience some exciting adventures. Another famous children’s book is “Robbi, Tobbi und das Fliewatüüt” by German author Boy Lornsen from 1967. It is about a kid and inventor named Tobias who helps his robot friend Robbi to solve riddles in order to graduate from robot school.
More exciting robot literature
Traces of robots or Artificial Intelligence can be found in several literary genres. Sometimes as a protagonist and sometimes only as a minor character like the mechanical hounds that are chasing public enemies and book owners in Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451”. A more prominent fictional character is the paranoid android Marvin which accompanies protagonist Arthur Dent on his journey in Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy”. Quotes like “The first ten million years were the worst, and the second ten million years, they were the worst too. The third ten million years I didn’t enjoy at all. After that I went into a bit of a decline” make Marvin one of the funniest robots in the history of literature.
A whole bunch of robots can be found in the science fiction novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by American writer Philip K. Dick. It explores the issue of what it is to be human and served as the primary basis for the film “Blade Runner”. More recommendations for robot literature are “The Humanoids” (1948) by Jack Williamson, “The Soul of the Robot” (1974) by Barrington J. Bayley and “Roderick” (1981) by John Sladek. We wish you a lot of fun reading all these books!