au·​tom·​a·​ton | \ȯ-ˈtä-mə-tən, -mə-ˌtän\
plural automatons or automata\-​mə-​tə, -​mə-​ˌtä \

Definition of automaton 

1 : a mechanism that is relatively self-operating especially : robot

2 : a machine or control mechanism designed to follow automatically a predetermined sequence of operations or respond to encoded instructions

3 : an individual who acts in a mechanical fashion He is an unfeeling automaton.

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Did You Know?

The idea of the automaton has fascinated people for many centuries. A traveler to the emperor's court in Byzantium in A.D. 949 reported that mechanical birds sat in a golden tree singing the songs of their species; that mechanical lions flanked the throne, roaring and switching their great tails; and that, as he stood watching, the emperor's throne suddenly shot upward toward the high ceiling, and when it slowly descended the emperor was wearing new robes. Early automata (notice the common plural form) often relied on water, steam, or falling weights to power them. Today automata, often called robots, are used in manufacturing plants to build not only vehicles but also much smaller electronic equipment.

Examples of automaton in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

That job is to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions, and not for members of Parliament to become Brexit-delivering automatons as some would have it. Joseph C. Sternberg, WSJ, "Britain Risks Death by a Thousand Elections," 21 Nov. 2018 In 1788, a woman named Alice Payne helps pay off her father’s debts by becoming a highway robber known as the Holy Ghost, aided by her lover, Jane, and an automaton named Laverna. Andrew Liptak, The Verge, "11 new sci-fi and fantasy books to check out this November," 1 Nov. 2018 Asians in America have long been stereotyped as undistinguishable robotic automatons. Michael Li, Vox, "I support affirmative action. But Harvard really is hurting Asian Americans.," 18 Oct. 2018 Their academies turn out intelligent, creative players rather than dribbling automatons. The Economist, "For all its faults, the World Cup in Russia is worth celebrating," 9 June 2018 Utility-maximising automatons might see the sense in buying mosquito nets over the internet for distant strangers. The Economist, "Can “effective altruism” maximise the bang for each charitable buck?," 2 June 2018 Other restaurants have incorporated automaton (remember Flippy, the burger-flipping robot?), but Creator is the first to build a machine that makes your burger from start to finish — all in about five minutes. Renae Reints, Fortune, "The World’s First Entirely Robot-Crafted Burger Is Here. This Is Exactly How It’s Made," 22 June 2018 But many of the inclusions are simply imitation human beings or parts of them—anatomical models, automatons, mannequins and the like—objects not necessarily motivated by aesthetic or sculptural concerns. Karen Wilkin, WSJ, "A Morbid, Engaging Body of Work," 26 Mar. 2018 In spite of its title, The Turk was not a foreign dignitary, but an automaton, comprising a wooden exterior in the shape of a mustachioed man and a complex interior mechanism of cogs and gears. Shuja Haider, The New Republic, "Silicon Valley’s Rigged Game of Life," 3 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'automaton.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of automaton

1639, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for automaton

Latin, from Greek, neuter of automatos — see automatic entry 1

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Statistics for automaton

Last Updated

5 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for automaton

The first known use of automaton was in 1639

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More Definitions for automaton



English Language Learners Definition of automaton

: a machine that can move by itself

: a person who acts in a mechanical or machinelike way

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More from Merriam-Webster on automaton

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with automaton

Spanish Central: Translation of automaton

Nglish: Translation of automaton for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about automaton

Comments on automaton

What made you want to look up automaton? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to make faulty or ineffective

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