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 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 Chomsky defined levels of a hierarchy and the automatons that can handle the grammars for each level. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, "Scientists Made the World's First Chemical Turing Machine," 9 Jan. 2020 But even if a treacherous automaton had wormed its way into that position, a human would have to program, monitor and maintain the thing. Greg Jefferson,, "Jefferson: Manufacturing is having its day in S.A.," 14 Feb. 2020 And when Kyle Shanahan determined that San Francisco would be best served reducing Garoppolo to an automaton, handing the ball off again and again and again, the 49ers demolished both playoff opponents, Minnesota and Green Bay, on the ground. Ben Shpigel, New York Times, "The 49ers Run (and Run and Run) Over Green Bay and Into the Super Bowl," 20 Jan. 2020 Not so fast Picnic’s automaton is undeniably fun and impressive to watch. Stephen L. Carterbloomberg, Houston Chronicle, "We made pizza. We made robots. Why not robot pizza?," 31 Jan. 2020 There are also showoff clocks and dazzling mechanical automatons. Washington Post, "The Met is the world’s greatest art museum. Three under-the-radar shows confirm it — again.," 10 Jan. 2020 Look out, too, for a reproduction of an 18th-century automaton in the form of a life-size turbaned figure sitting at a chess board. Washington Post, "The Met is the world’s greatest art museum. Three under-the-radar shows confirm it — again.," 10 Jan. 2020 This is not to say that the men Trump pardoned in November were victims or automatons. Gil Barndollar, Twin Cities, "Gil Barndollar: Endless wars are corrupting our military and distracting the U.S. from bigger global threats," 12 Dec. 2019 Civilian kitchens aren’t equipped with machines that have automaton-like limbs to bring together a dough. New York Times, "How to Make the Cardamom Bun That Took New York," 10 Oct. 2019

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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Statistics for automaton

Last Updated

13 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Automaton.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

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More Definitions for automaton


How to pronounce automaton (audio)

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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