au·​tom·​a·​ton | \ ȯ-ˈtä-mə-tən How to pronounce automaton (audio) , -mə-ˌtän\
plural automatons or automata\ -​mə-​tə How to pronounce automata (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

But in general, the quality of consciousness refers to a capacity to experience one’s existence rather than just recording it or responding to stimuli like an automaton. Quanta Magazine, "Neuroscience Readies for a Showdown Over Consciousness Ideas," 6 Mar. 2019 In Greek mythology, Hephaestus, the god of crafts, creates a giant bronze automaton to protect Europa, the mother of King Minos of Crete. Ferris Jabr, Harper's magazine, "The Story of Storytelling," 10 Mar. 2019 Take, for example, one of the most extraordinary of all Greek myths, the story of the giant bronze automaton Talos. Peter Thonemann, WSJ, "‘Gods and Robots’ Review: Men, Myths and Machines," 7 Dec. 2018 The equities side of Wall Street, including me, always writes off bond investors as automatons. Andy Kessler, WSJ, "Stock Picking Is Like Time Travel," 13 Jan. 2019 This method is clearly unrealistic for anything less than preprogrammed automatons, but a simplified version that sees travelers boarding by alternating rows on alternating sides would also be a massive improvement over more prevalent methods. Eric Limer, Popular Mechanics, "The Beautifully Efficient Airplane Boarding Method That Mere Humans Just Can't Pull Off," 5 Feb. 2019 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

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

4 Jul 2019

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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

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