au·​tom·​a·​ton | \ ȯ-ˈtä-mə-tən How to pronounce automaton (audio) , -mə-ˌtän \
plural automatons or automata\ ȯ-​ˈtä-​mə-​tə How to pronounce automaton (audio) , -​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 The Times focuses on the enduring influence of the Game of Life, a cellular automaton invented by Conway more than a half century ago. John Horgan, Scientific American, "Quantum Mechanics, Free Will and the Game of Life," 14 Feb. 2021 The automaton gods and mythical figures in palace displays teased and flirted, attacked and fled their delighted viewers, sticking out their tongues, launching jets of water, and hiding behind the scenery. Jessica Riskin, The New York Review of Books, "When Engineers Were Humanists," 23 Feb. 2021 No physics model—not even the most complex, nonlocal cellular automaton--can capture my rational and, yes, emotional motives for believing in free will, but that doesn’t mean these motives lack causal power. John Horgan, Scientific American, "Quantum Mechanics, Free Will and the Game of Life," 14 Feb. 2021 The Japanese characters are practically automatons, obsessed with efficiency and order, reflecting the prevailing picture of Japan as a mechanized producer of cars and electronics. Marc Bain, Quartz, "How Japan’s global image morphed from military empire to eccentric pop-culture superpower," 21 May 2020 The automaton dances in dainty circles to the rhythm of a drip algorithm as hot water trickles into the filter. NBC News, "Robot waiters, video doctors: SKorea moves to less personal contact," 20 May 2020 But such techniques never overwhelm the sheer presence of the actors, whose vitality seems amplified by the imposing automatons on either side of the stage. New York Times, "20th-Century Rogues’ Gallery Gets a Modern Twist," 12 Sep. 2019 This week the company started accepting preorders for Moxie, its first automaton, which will ship this autumn. Daniel Oberhaus, Wired, "Moxie Is the Robot Pal You Dreamed of as a Kid," 30 Apr. 2020 Our attachment to these automatons is all the more remarkable because they weren’t designed to forge human connections; they were built to do a job. Daniel Oberhaus, Wired, "Moxie Is the Robot Pal You Dreamed of as a Kid," 30 Apr. 2020

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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Time Traveler for automaton

Time Traveler

The first known use of automaton was in 1639

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Last Updated

16 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Automaton.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Apr. 2021.

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on automaton

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

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