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Invitation to the Book Launch 25/01/2024

You are warmly invited on January 25, 2024, to the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague for the book launch titled "R.U.R. and the Vision of Artificial Life." The book, released by the American publisher MIT Press on January 16, is closely related to the Czech book "Robot 100: Sto rozumů," published by the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague in the fall of 2020. The word "robot" was first introduced to the world on January 25, 1921, during the premiere of Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. with the subtitle Rossum's Universal Robots at the National Theatre in Prague. Due to COVID-19 measures, the centenary celebration of the premiere couldn't be properly held, so the significance of Čapek's work will be commemorated a bit later on a non-round anniversary.

Please register using this form and specify whether you will participate in person or remotely (the Zoom link will be provided later).

Both books are edited by Jitka Čejková and feature Čapek's R.U.R. in its entirety, along with essays and beautiful illustrations. The English edition, "R.U.R. and the Vision of Artificial Life," offers readers a completely new translation of R.U.R. into English by Štěpán Šimek, a professor and head of the Theatre Department at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, USA. Šimek, known for translating contemporary Czech plays and authorized translations of Václav Havel's works, has now modernly translated Čapek's century-old drama. Unlike some other translations, he made no cuts, translating every word and line faithfully to the original, allowing English-speaking readers to engage with the most accurate representation of Čapek's ideas.

While the Czech version of Robot 100 includes contributions from a hundred personalities (hence the subtitle "Sto rozumů" -- "Sto" means in Czech one hundred and "rozum" means wisdom, mind, sense), the English edition features only twenty essays primarily related to the scientific field of artificial life (hence the inclusion of ".. and the Vision of Artificial Life" in the title). Readers have the opportunity to learn about the changes in robotics, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, and artificial life over the past 100 years since the term "robot" was first coined. The books discuss unanswered questions, challenges posed by contemporary times and modern technologies, as well as societal issues related to globalization, power and wealth distribution, religion, and the role of women in society. In the Czech version, alongside scientific texts written by researchers, readers can find contributions from artists, writers, radio and television hosts, and even athletes reflecting on the past, present, and future of robots.

Various perspectives on robots are also presented visually. The Czech version features cover art by Jonáš Ledecký and several drawings by Czech and international artists. In the English edition, all essays are accompanied by drawings from the 49th International Children's Art Exhibition Lidice, themed around robots and artificial intelligence in 2021.

Both books include Čapek's 1935 feuilleton from Lidové noviny titled "The Author of Robots Defends Himself," where Čapek emphasized that when writing R.U.R., he was thinking of modern chemistry and did not intend to send tin men filled with gears, phototubes, and other mechanical gadgets into the world. This text reminds us that although the term "robot" is widely used today for electromechanical devices, the original idea was to create robots through chemical synthesis from new matter that behaves like a living organism. According to Čapek, not all possibilities for creation on our planet had been exhausted, and scientists in the field of artificial life aim to find substances different from those making up living cells, exploring alternative forms of life's material substrate. Hence, a university focused on chemistry and technology took up the celebration of Čapek's work.

The positive reviews of both the Czech and English editions attest to the quality of these books. Science magazine published a full-page review last week, stating, "The most significant contribution of the volume is Štěpán S. Šimek's new translation of the play, which successfully captures the surreal peculiarity of Čapek's dark comedy of errors and makes the text accessible to a contemporary audience." The Irish Times wrote about the book, calling it "mandatory reading for anyone interested in artificial life."

The presentation of both books, "R.U.R. and the Vision of Artificial Life" and "Robot 100: Sto rozumů," will take place on January 25, 2024, starting at 3:00 PM in the BI lecture hall at the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague (Technická 3, Prague 6). The event will conclude with the book launch around 6:00 PM and a book signing session. Books will be available for purchase on-site. Some authors will attend the book launch in person (Seth Bullock, Julyan Cartwright, Gusz Eiben, Carlos Gershenson, Jana Horáková, Sina Khajehabdollahi, Julie Nekola Nováková, Antoine Pasquali), while others will participate remotely (George Musser, Olaf Witkowski, Hemma Philamore, Nathaniel Virgo, and more). Authors whose contributions are only in the Czech edition, such as Vladimír Kočí, Steen Rasmussen, Petr Salaba, František Štěpánek, and "Vědátor" Jan Tomáštík, have also confirmed their participation. Translator Štěpán Šimek and representatives of MIT Press will join remotely. Brief remarks will be made by the rector of the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague, Professor Milan Pospíšil, the director of the Karel Čapek Memorial in Strž, Zdeněk Vacek, and the curator of the International Children's Art Exhibition Lidice, Veronika Trubačová.

The book launch will be held as a public event within the framework of the Dynalife COST meeting. The COST program supports European collaboration in scientific and technical research, coordinating research through so-called "European Actions." COST Action CA21169 DYNALIFE (Information, Coding, and Biological Function: the Dynamics of Life) includes both the book's editor Jitka Čejková and many authors who paid tribute to robots and, above all, Karel Čapek, in the books "R.U.R. and the Vision of Artificial Life" and "Robot 100: Sto rozumů."

Simultaneously, the public is invited to view the traveling exhibition "ROBOT: Born in Czechia, known all over the world" by Zdeněk Vacek. The exhibition, prepared for the Czech presidency in the EU Council, has been displayed in Brussels, Strasbourg, Luxembourg, and the Karel Čapek Memorial in Strž. It is currently located on Technická Street 3 in front of Building B of the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague until the end of January. This exhibition not only recalls the global impact of Čapek's visionary play R.U.R., where robots first appeared on stage, but also highlights the contemporary successes of Czech robotics, from the conversational chatbot Alquist and the tireless bricklayer from CTU to chemical robots from the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague and military robotic applications. Of course, there is also a panel dedicated to the book "Robot 100: Sto rozumů."


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