A robot is a mechanical or virtual, artificial agent.
It is usually an electromechanical system, which, by its appearance or movements, conveys a sense that it has intent or agency of its own. The word robot can refer to both physical robots and virtual software agents, but the latter are usually referred to as bots to differentiate.
The last property above, the appearance of agency, is important when people are considering whether to call a machine a robot. In general, the more a machine has the appearance of agency, the more it is considered a robot.
The word robot was introduced by Czech writer Karel Rapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossumâ€™s Universal Robots), which premiered in 1920.
The play begins in a factory that makes â€˜artificial peopleâ€™ – they are called robots, but are closer to the modern idea of androids or even clones, creatures who can be mistaken for humans. They can plainly think for themselves, though they seem happy to serve. At issue is whether the robots are being exploited and, if so, what follows?
The word robot comes from the word robota meaning literally serf labor, and, figuratively, â€œdrudgeryâ€ or â€œhard workâ€ in Czech and Slovak.
The origin of the word is the Old Church Slavonic rabota â€œservitudeâ€ (â€œworkâ€ in contemporary Russian), which in turn comes from the Indo-European root *orbh-. Robot is cognate with the German word Arbeiter (worker).