“I feel responsible for the question whether it is possible that machines will really take over humans by impoverishing them of the ability to create” is the opening sentence of Čapek’s article that was published in the newspaper Přítomnost (Presence) on 7 February 1929 and was again used in the theatre programme of production of R.U.R. in 1974 in the Theatre of South Bohemia.
As the opening line suggests Čapek talks about his inner conflict with technology and himself but rather than criticising technology he criticises the reality of the technological world people live in. It’s remarkable how his observations of the then technological world are relevant to our reality – about 90 years later. He states that “it’s more or less an optical illusion – that the stoker by the boiler serves the machine; in reality he serves his employer,” which basically answers the whole question “will humans serve the machines?” that has been asked ever since he published R.U.R.
His article doesn’t reject technology but rather mocks humanity for their arrogance due to technology: “We believe that we live in some sort of enlightenment because we light with electricity; in reality we live in a messy and badly organized prehistory era because we have for example pauperism.” This statement strongly shows that however we may have advanced in technology in the last century the problems of low standard of living still prevail. He talks about the society flaunting on the quick improvement of machines and technological progress but not on improvement of education, standard of living or anything that gives life its value because neither of that happened. The society has been ignoring the true necessities of life all this time and rather concerned itself on the ongoing process of making everything automatic. It’s an irony of the world – the more we are connected globally to each other the more we ignore each other.
Čapek writes in a very eloquent language, although very pleasing for reading not that simple to translate to its whole content, about the conflict between man and machine and it may seem that “the machines are winning over humans but that’s only because we care about them and invest to them more.” His opinion on this issue is therefore very clear although it might have been misunderstood in R.U.R. Technology is not a bad thing as long as people control themselves. It’s about living with technology and not for it.
“The relation of machines to people is dependant mainly on the relation of people to people; which should be in our hands as much as is the power of the machines.”
Čapek, K. (1929) ‘Karel Čapek o své hře’, Přítomnost, 7 February.
R.U.R. by Karel Čapek (1974) directed by Otto Hradecký. [Programme] Jihočeské Divadlo, České Budějovice
Picture from: http://www.radio.cz/en/section/archives/karel-capeks-enduring-message