automaton

noun
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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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 This year’s most striking example is the F.P. Journe x Francis Ford Coppola, FFC Blue, a wristwatch that tells time via an automaton in the shape of a blue hand. Carol Besler, Forbes, 22 Oct. 2021 Blitz, a Parisian automaton from 1850 and a family heirloom. E. Alex Jung, Vulture, 7 July 2021 Like the incompleteness theorem of Gödel, and like the Game of Life, a cellular automaton invented by mathematician John Conway, Penrose tiles suggest that even a universe based on simple rules can generate infinite, unpredictable complexity. John Horgan, Scientific American, 16 June 2021 Upgrade points unlock fighting combos and improve your automaton. Matt Gardner, Forbes, 24 May 2021 Conway’s inclinations and talent led him to invent a remarkable cellular automaton called the Game of Life, which continues to fascinate after 50 years. Jean-paul Delahaye, Scientific American, 28 Apr. 2021 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, 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, 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, 14 Feb. 2021 See More

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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Dictionary Entries Near automaton

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Cite this Entry

“Automaton.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/automaton. Accessed 24 May. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on automaton

Nglish: Translation of automaton for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about automaton

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