On page 145 of Richard Munson's Tesla: Inventor of the Modern (2018), he details this exchange:
When a reporter called the boat a weapon of war, Tesla sternly countered: "You do not see there a wireless torpedo. You see there the first of a race of robots, mechanical men which will do the laborious work of the human race."
This was in reference to Tesla's radio-controlled boat. Along with this, Munson sites the New York Sun saying the boat would "revolutionize warfare" - in November 21, 1898. Because of the recent publication of a picture of mine in a book, I'm very aware of the first use of the word "robot." Karel Čapek has long been claimed as the father of that word in his play Rossum's Universal Robots - published in 1920. So the opening quote, "You see there the first of a race of robots ..." Munson's source for that quote is "'Tesla: Master of Lightning,' PBS."
There are several possible explanations, which I'll list from most to least likely:
- PBS opted to change Tesla's own word 'telautomaton' to the word we know now, "robot" - so Munson is inadvertently using a modified quote (likely)
- Tesla was still talking about his radio-controlled boat after 1920, and thus knew and used Capek's new word (unlikely)
- Tesla used (or even invented) the word "robot" long before Capek's famous play (extremely unlikely)
The PBS documentary appears to have been released in 2000, based on a 1999 book by Margaret Cheney and Robert Uth called Tesla, Master of Lightning. Cheney also wrote another biography of Tesla on her own: Tesla: Man Out of Time (2001). I've read that one, and it was very well researched. But I've neither read the Cheney/Uth book, nor seen the PBS documentary.
This is a librarian's personality at work ... I don't usually spot these things, but it falls right at the intersection of several of my areas of interest: Science Fiction, Technology, and a love of the English language.
I'm about half way through the book. This isn't meant as a disparagement of the book, which in every other regard seems to be very thoroughly researched.