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Definition: automaton

An automatic machine. The word automaton and its plural "automata," were first used in the 2nd century to describe machines that were self-activating. For example, water, air and mechanical springs were used to make things move. See automata theory.

A Preaching Monk
This mechanical monk in the 16th century is an example of an automaton. (Image courtesy of Deutsches Museum, Munich, Archives, R3102.)