Cyborg Futures pp 141-158 | Cite as

Rossum’s Mimesis

  • Jennifer KeatingEmail author
  • Illah Nourbakhsh
Part of the Social and Cultural Studies of Robots and AI book series (SOCUSRA)


In this chapter we frame the efforts of robotics to create new, intelligent machinery as a tension between refactoring human mechanisms through mimesis and the techno-optimistic promise of artificial intelligence that vaults beyond the capabilities of its human creators in an expression of metaphysical poetics, frequently termed The Singularity. The Rossum father and son characters in Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) become opposing poles in our analysis for the shifting motivations underlying why and how human labor might be replaced by automation. Exploring R.U.R. in the context of its early twentieth-century cultural context demonstrates its conversation with a reshaping world order and corresponding movements of nationalism. Yet the tension in robotics as both mimesis and poetics continues into the present age, and we examine present-day utopian visions of technological posthumanism by studying Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near, demonstrating striking parallels with R.U.R. in the tropes of human disentanglement from prosaic needs, and the techno-utopian image of a posthuman age of leisure and plenty.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dietrich CollegeCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.The Robotics InstituteCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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