Definition of automaton in English:



  • 1A moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being.

    • ‘The camera pans right to left, over the mechanical cymbals, et cetera, on to the automaton playing the drums.’
    • ‘He manages to create a believable world of automatons and clockwork mechanisms against a backdrop of the real world.’
    • ‘The earliest ‘robots’ were the fixed-base mechanical automatons of the 18th century.’
    • ‘With 842 lots, the sale will be in two parts: fine toys, biscuit tins and toy soldiers next Tuesday; and mechanical music, automata, dolls and doll's houses on October 30.’
    • ‘The story went that Descartes was so struck with grief that he created an automaton, a mechanical doll, built exactly identical to his dead daughter.’
    • ‘This reproduction does not simulate the jerky movements of a sci-fi automaton, however, but the strange instruments of a science fiction soundtrack.’
    • ‘Paris became a center for high-quality hand-crafted automata and porcelain dolls in the 19th century.’
    • ‘And in one sense there's nothing new about them - humanoid automata have captured the popular imagination for centuries.’
    • ‘Originally, the challenge was to design an automaton that could walk unassisted.’
    • ‘In the late 1700s, a performer-cum-scientist in the court of Maria Theresa displayed a wooden automaton seated at a gear-filled cabinet.’
    1. 1.1 A machine that performs a function according to a predetermined set of coded instructions, especially one capable of a range of programmed responses to different circumstances.
      • ‘We know how to build toy thinking machines, automatons, but that's not the same thing.’
      • ‘Mathematician Alan M. Turing was one of the first to propose the idea of a finite automaton as a universal mathematics machine.’
      • ‘Already in the seventeenth century the possibility was widely discussed that animals could be understood as machines or automata.’
      • ‘In computer science, an automaton is an abstract machine that can serve as a model of computation.’
      • ‘Non-human animals have only bodies and are essentially automata or biological robots which behave according to their internal biological/mechanical makeup.’
      robot, computer
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 Used in similes and comparisons to refer to a person who seems to act in a mechanical or unemotional way.
      ‘she went about her preparations like an automaton’
      • ‘It seems to escape most people that we docs are actually human beings too, not automatons.’
      • ‘The 21st century demands free-thinkers, not an endless parade of automatons churned out from a formulaic educational assembly line.’
      • ‘It created highly efficient industry, with human beings turned into automata.’
      • ‘No longer were automata performing like humans; humans were performing like automata.’
      • ‘They are not the unemotional automatons of science fiction myth.’
      • ‘They are thinking human beings not automatons.’
      • ‘Technology is here to stay, we need to use it to our advantage, bearing in mind at all times that the athlete is a human being and not a machine or an automaton.’
      • ‘It needs automatons, cogs who fit neatly in the machine.’
      • ‘The dancers' expressions did not change on one occasion - they came across as automatons performing precisely as prescribed, and many will find that is not very watchable.’
      • ‘He goes through the mechanics of putting in the milk concentrate powder like an automaton, taking insane amounts of care not to spill a single drop of the powder from the bottles.’
      • ‘Instead, they seem to be purely creatures of the plot, automatons carrying out their instructions in order to keep the rest of the machinery moving.’
      • ‘For one thing, human beings do not experience themselves as being clockwork automata.’
      • ‘A world of automata - of creatures that worked like machines - would hardly be worth creating.’
      • ‘I notice that the checkout girls in the supermarket look for eye contact with every customer, as they too need to be seen and accepted as human beings, not automatons.’


Early 17th century: via Latin from Greek, neuter of automatos ‘acting of itself’, from autos ‘self’.