blackbirdonline journalSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3

Introduction and Table of Contents

spacer Isaac Lee
   The Most Ingenious Artist: An Internet      Adventure from the COVID Lockdown

Josef Čapek
   Artificial Man
   English translation by AI

Blackbird Staff
   Artificial Bodies: A Miscellany

Karel Čapek
   R.U.R. Suite in Blackbird v21n2
   Inventing Roboti, historic R.U.R. covers,
   variant editions, notes from the Theatre
   Guild Library edition, newspaper reviews,
   and the Samuel French edition of R.U.R.
   in three acts and an epilogue.

Elizabeth King
   Clockwork Prayer: A Sixteenth-Century
     Mechanical Monk in Blackbird v1n1


A link to Blackbird’s “Artificial Bodies Reading Loop” menu appears at the bottom of every page of related content in this issue You may also return to this menu at any time by visiting Features. Out of issue content at is, for now, a one-way trip out of v21n3.

Karel Čapek envisioned the production of organic robots at scale in his 1920 play R.U.R. In his tale, robot production is a capitalistic venture that brings an end to humanity. His brother, Josef, soon after cataloged a variety of “artificial humans” in the volume Artificial Man. A little more than one hundred years later, we are living with actual physical and virtual robots. Here we feature a look at some physical automata of the past even as disembodied algorithms now seem about to change the world in ways neither Čapek could have imagined.

Putting aside the endless discussion of what defines a “robot” for a future tome or treatise, it seems apparent that a robot doesn't have to be embodied and have physical interaction with an environment to have agency. We have generations of experience now with radio and telephone, technologies where the voice is a stand-in for, or projection of, a human body. Today, at the other end of a gendered voice from the cloud or a mysterious AI system, do we not still have a sense of some imagined embodiment behind these systems, when, in fact, the machinery, the code, has no material shape whatsoever? But the illusion holds sway; otherwise, why an impulse to thank Siri or Alexa; why program responses to a thank you?

Instead of individuated mechanical bodies and an endless line of duplicate robot faces, the dominant army, comprised of connected and “smart” devices, is of corporate systems, databases, and algorithms, some dressed out with kind voices; others newly offering the wondrous and terrifying ability to create or transform image, data, and word almost instantaneously.

Our Artificial Bodies Reading Loop looks to the past and links chiefly to the images and concepts of embodied animate figures, whether driven by magic, physics, clockwork, or advanced technology.

Isaac Lee encounters a sixteenth-century clockwork automaton in his lockdown reading and research, discovering an automaton that sculptor Elizabeth King documented in the inaugural issue of Blackbird.

Josef Čapek’s Artificial Man, translated here by freeware “AI language models” as brokered by lead media editor Chase Ober, gives a sardonic survey of constructed bodies made animate (or human bodies combined with machinery) from a 1924 perspective; a writer, artist, and designer, it was Josef who suggested to his brother Karel Čapek the word roboti for the 1920 play R.U.R.

Journal staffer and pagebuilder Peter Powers and online editor M.A. Keller contributed found images for our discomforting miscellany of “artificial bodies.”

And finally, the loop points back to the suite of R.U.R. materials from v21n2, our previous issue of the journal, including a full reprint of an English translation of the play, and supporting historical materials, as well as to Elizabeth King’s “Clockwork Prayer: A Sixteenth-Century Mechanical Monk” from Blackbird v1n1.  end