The Czech playwright Karel Capek is credited with popularizing the term "robot" with his 1920 play, "R.U.R.", (short for Rossum's Universal Robots.) Spoiler alert: A robot revolution winds up wiping out all of humanity with the exception of one of the robots' creators. The play was first performed in Prague in 1921 and made its way to Broadway the next year.
If you grew up in the 1960's, odds are that you don't need a backgrounder to recognize the line, "Danger, Will Robinson." That was the catch phrase associated with the B9 robot in the hit television series "Lost in Space." Compared to the later robots that would grace the screen, B9 was a bit on the dowdy side - definitely big, clunky and not much in terms of whiz bang features. Still, he - it? - was good enough to sound the alarm whenever some no-goodnik alien was about to crash a scene.
In the accompanying photo, the crew from the original cast pose for a group portrait with the show's robot in this Dec. 2, 1995 file shot.
R2-D2 - "Artoo" for short - became pop culture's favorite droid (long before Google)arrived on the scene. The spunky robot sidekick to Luke Skywalker in the various "Star Wars" movie, R2-D2 may have been small, but he was always competent and cool - especially in the proverbial pinch (of which there was no short supply.) In 2003, R2-D2 got inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame.
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Matthew Broderick, featured in a trailer for the movie "WarGames," played the role of a precocious teenage geek who found himself accidentally paired against a computer game. The stakes were nothing less than the outbreak of thermonuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In the end, the good guys win and everybody lived happily after.
The dangerous side of computers: the actress Tricia Helfer as Caprica Six in the television series "Battlestar Galactica." Caprica 6 belonged to a class of robotic humanoid evildoers.
Credit: Battlestar Gallactica official website
Dave should have hopped the first shuttle back to Earth the first time he heard the HAL 9000 say hello. But the HAL 9000 - "HAL" was an acronym for a "Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic"computer - featured one of the more memorable man versus machine showdowns in the history of film. HAL ranked 13th among the greatest film villains of all time, according to the American Film Institute's 100 Heroes and Villains list published in 2003. The computer also deserved a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for its role in the movie "2001."
Credit: 2001: A Space Odyssey Internet Resource/Robot Hall of Fame
The "Star Trek" episode in which the M5 computer grabbed control of the Enterprise expressed the unspoken fears of a generation of mid-20th century Americans. The story hints at a possible future in which super-brilliant computers one day replace many jobs done by humans. But as the episode made sure to note - the M5 ultimately runs amok and turns into a killer - some tasks are better left in human hands.
Did you really expect an upset? As if there were any lingering doubts out there, the latest ballyhooed battle of wits between human beings and human beings wasn't even close with IBM's "Watson" computer trouncing a couple of previous Jeopardy! champions. "Alex, I'll have butt-kicking computer systems for $300."
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Before "Watson" tried its luck on a television game show, perhaps the most ballyhooed real-life showdown came in 1997 when World Chess champion Garry Kasparov faced off against IBM's Deep Blue computer. A year earlier, Kasparov had defeated a different version of Deep Blue. IBM built a more powerful version to take on Kasparov for the rematch and it was too much for the Russian grandmaster. In a six-game match, the computer finished with two wins to one with three draws. "I lost my fighting spirit," Kasparov said afterwards.
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"Colossus: The Forbin Project," was a Cold War thriller, par excellence. I can't do any better than the IMDB summary, which put it this way: "Forbin is the designer of an incredibly sophisticated computer that will run all of America's nuclear defenses. Shortly after being turned on, it detects the existence of Guardian, the Soviet counterpart, previously unknown to US Planners. Both computers insist that they be linked, and after taking safeguards to preserve confidential material, each side agrees to allow it. As soon as the link is established the two become a new Super computer and threaten the world with the immediate launch of nuclear weapons if they are detached. Colossus begins to give its plans for the management of the world under its guidance. Forbin and the other scientists form a technological resistance to Colossus which must operate underground."