au·​tom·​a·​ton ȯ-ˈtä-mə-tən How to pronounce automaton (audio)
plural automatons or automata ȯ-ˈtä-mə-tə How to pronounce automaton (audio)
: a mechanism that is relatively self-operating
especially : robot
: a machine or control mechanism designed to follow automatically a predetermined sequence of operations or respond to encoded instructions
: 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.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web The Voyager Skeleton is by comparison, monochromatic and less theatrical—there are no automatons or chimes. Carol Besler, Robb Report, 14 Apr. 2023 Every parent has at times felt like an automaton. Rumaan Alam, The New Republic, 12 Apr. 2021 The hotel's resident automaton, MOBI, greets guests, escorts them to their rooms, and even delivers small amenities from a stowage compartment in its belly, providing service with a (digital) smile. Todd Plummer, Condé Nast Traveler, 7 Sep. 2022 In the late 1960s, the English mathematician John Conway began experimenting with a strange form of computer known as a cellular automaton. The Physics Arxiv Blog, Discover Magazine, 31 Mar. 2021 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 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'automaton.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


earlier "contrivance with a hidden mechanism that appears to operate on its own," borrowed from Latin automatum, automaton, borrowed from Greek autómaton, noun derivative from neuter of autómatos "of one's own accord, acting without external intervention, natural," from auto- auto- + -matos, going back to Indo-European *mn̥to-, adjective derivative of the verbal base *men- "conceive a thought" (also in Greek mémona "[I] am eager, have in mind, intend," ménos "passion, resolve"), whence also Latin commentus "feigned, fabricated" (past participle of comminīscī "to think up, invent"), Sanskrit matá-, verbal adjective of mányate "(s/he) thinks" — more at mind entry 1

First Known Use

1639, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of automaton was in 1639

Dictionary Entries Near automaton

Cite this Entry

“Automaton.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


au·​tom·​a·​ton ȯ-ˈtäm-ət-ən How to pronounce automaton (audio)
plural automatons or automata -ət-ə How to pronounce automaton (audio)
: a machine that can move by itself
especially : robot sense 1a
: a person who acts in a mechanical way

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