[FOUNTAIN]Einstein as face of Korea?In 1920, Czech playwright Karel Capek had a worry. The naming of a character in his play, a man-made creature that attacks its master, was the problem. After a lot of thinking, Capek named the character “robot,” derived from the Czech word “robota,” which means “forced labor,” by just dropping the “a.” This naming reflected the spirit of the times as the Czech Republic was then undergoing a Socialist revolution.
The word robot soon spread around the world and became a common noun. Capek’s play, “R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots),” was a big hit. The play posits that some day in the future, robots will destroy mankind. Like the play, the robot was created as a symbol of political disaster to point out contradictions in industrial society.
In 1932, a British technician made a model of a future robot. His model made of nickel and cables reminded people of black slaves with thick lips. For this reason, robots also became a symbol of racial discrimination.
Lee Kwang-su, a renowned literary figure whose pen name was Chunwon, was the one who introduced robots to the Korean people. Chunwon read Capek’s play, translated into Japanese in 1923, and praised it, saying, “It is a serious satirical drama that describes the day when mankind will fall, becoming slaves of the technological culture they created with their own hands.”
This book was translated into Korean two years later and was widely read among intellectuals of the time who were actively writing socialist literature as members of the Korean Artist Proletaria Federation. Back then, robots were monopolized by intellectuals and were still a political symbol.
It was a Japanese cartoon that popularized robots in Korea. In 1963, Tezuka Osamu’s TV cartoon series “Astroboy” and Nagai Go’s “Mazinger Z” in 1972 promoted the status of robot to that of “heroic soldiers.” In 1976, “Robot Taekwon V” was created to defeat the Japanese heroes. For the first time, the robot was both a friend and hero to the public.
Robot “Albert Hubo,” which was introduced at the Busan APEC forum and attracted the eyes of the world, was chosen on Monday as the representative of “Dynamic Korea” for promotional material. The robot with a machine body and the face of Einstein has become the new face of Korea, succeeding soccer player Park Chu-young. It is a proud fact that this robot is the symbol of Korea, which is a strong power in the world’s information technology area. However, it is a bit disturbing that the face of Korea is that of Einstein. Is it just because I am not yet ready for such globalization?
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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