The word robot comes from the Czechoslovakian word robotnik, meaning “forced labor,” or “slave.” And indeed, since it was coined by Czech writer Karl Čapek in 1920, people have both feared and fantasized about robots. Friendly ones, like The Jetsons’ housecleaner Rosie or Star Wars’ C3PO, exist to make our lives easier. But lurking behind their helpfulness is the prospect of malevolence, a suspicion that the machines we’ve built in our image could turn on us. As Bladerunner artfully captured, becoming too dependent on robots could make us—not them—the real slaves.
Yet while pop culture reflects society’s conflicted feelings about automation, the scientific fields of robotics and artificial intelligence have marched forward with less ambiguity. Robots have transformed from clunky, bumbling machines to sleek, capable devices that deliver packages, vacuum our floors, and manufacture items we use every day. As these machines encroach deeper into our lives, the question of how we got here is increasingly relevant to scientific historians and other researchers. What philosophical, technical and cultural advances led to the automated world we now inhabit?
On September 21, 1945, Frantisek Jiri Pavlik illegally entered the United States at Boston, Massachusetts, as a stowaway and was immediately taken into custody by order of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. On November 29, 1945, the chairman of the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, Michigan Representative John Lesinski, Sr., submitted a bill to Congress in which he tells the 25-year-old Czechoslovakian’s story:
He had applied to the United States consul in Prague for a visa to come to the United States but was unsuccessful because the Germans would not permit anyone to leave the country. In May 1939…he smuggled his way into Germany and proceeded to Hamburg in a further attempt to come to the United States. He was again unsuccessful in his efforts and returned to Prague. In 1940, through the means of a prohibited radio, he learned that a Czechoslovak legion was forming in north Africa and again left his home. He was apprehended by the Gestapo and sentenced to be hanged. He was sent to the concentration camp at Dachau and was held there as a political prisoner. He remained there from March 1941 to July 1944, at which time he was transferred to another camp in Germany, and in January 1945 managed to make his escape. He worked himself through the German lines to the American side and contacted American Infantry troops. He was placed under investigation and questioned thoroughly by the United States Army and states he furnished valuable information to them….He fought with the American troops for about 1 month and subsequently was hospitalized, having been wounded twice.
Every U.S. presidential election attracts worldwide interest, and Reports from the Foreign Broadcast Information Service—available from Readex in a unique digital edition—provide English-language analysis of them from all sides of the political and geographical world.
These open-source intelligence reports can be used to understand how different nations viewed the outcome of the 1980 contest between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Some of their conclusions are somewhat surprising, especially in light of what actually happened during the eight years Reagan was president.
The first excerpt below was broadcast in Persian from the Tehran Domestic Service on November 6, 1980. The transcript states at the beginning that this is “Unattributed political commentary.” Its headline is “Carter, Reagan Called Identical.” Some of the language in the opening paragraphs could have seemingly come from an Eastern European or Soviet source.
From 1941 to 1996 the U.S. government published the Daily Report of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). FBIS was begun in 1941 as a means of letting the government know what propaganda was being broadcast into the U.S. by the shortwave radio services of the foreign governments involved in the European war.
Broadcasts deemed of potential interest to U.S. government officials were selected for translation into English. Political, economic and war news dominated the first years of FBIS. Broadcasts were either transcribed in their entirety, in part, or were briefly summarized. Every day a Daily Report was published and delivered. After World War II the number of FBIS sources grew, and the size of the Daily Report ballooned. In the early 1970s FBIS Daily Reports began to be delivered in Regional Reports whose names changed over time. Sources now included newspapers and television news shows as well as radio broadcasts.
Graham E. Fuller, a former C.I.A. official, wrote about FBIS Reports in a Consortium News piece entitled, “Value in Reading Others’ Propaganda,” which was published online on September 29, 2015. In this piece Fuller writes:
Indeed there was an entire branch of CIA which monitored and published on a daily basis a thick booklet of selected broadcast items from around the world—available by subscription. The Foreign Broadcast Information Service provided an invaluable service. It is now sadly defunct, the victim of short-sighted budget cutting—an operation which probably cost less annually than one fighter aircraft and offered much more.
An interesting dynamic is playing out on the world stage between Syria, Germany, and Russia. In a dramatic historical turn, a unified and economically resurgent Germany is welcoming Syrian refugees even as post-Soviet Russia redoubles its support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s brutal suppression of the fruits of the “Damascus Spring.”
To provide some context to current events, in this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995, we offer West German and Soviet political commentaries on state power, and a core document, the 1962 Constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic.
Soviet Press Parallels Chinese Communist and Western Militarists Izvestiya (News), Moscow – 25 September 1963
Citing Clauswitz’s dictum that “war is the continuation of politics by other means,” in the September 25, 1963, issue of Izvestiya, commentator Boris Dmitriyev claimed that on the question of nuclear war, both China and the United States were in favor of it. On the one hand, in his argument for the peaceful aspirations of the Soviet Union, the writer recognizes that “nuclear missiles have fundamentally changed the nature of modern warfare;” on the other, the USSR had just the previous year been discovered placing missiles in Cuba. With China and the Soviet Union locked in a bitter controversy over the true nature of communist orthodoxy, one might wonder whether the missiles removed from Cuba were usefully redeployed on the Asian continent—pointed east.
When one thinks of Prince Otto von Bismarck, 19th-century Germany’s Iron Chancellor, birthday cakes and greetings do not first come to mind. But they did — at least the birthday greetings — in perhaps an unexpected place and certainly in a most unusual way in a Chicago newspaper in 1874.
On April 1, 1874, Bismarck — still not fully recovered from a serious illness contracted the year before (not nervous exhaustion from overwork in redesigning the European continent but rather a case of gout) — celebrated his 60th birthday in Berlin amid much adulation from the new Germany, his enthusiastic nationalist supporters, and foreign dignitaries. Just a little more than a month later, the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper published on May 2, 1874 a macaronic poem [i.e. a poem, usually in Latin, interspersed with vernacular words or phrases] celebrating Bismarck’s birthday. It is, I think, a poem which raises at least a couple of questions.