Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Automaton (Gk. automatos, of one's own accord) a machine having the power of spontaneous movement, usually applied to machines so constructed as to imitate human or animal actions. Among famous automata, a duck, made by Vaucanson, and exhibited at Paris in 1741, which swam, dived, drank, etc., the "piping bullfinch," exhibited at the Exhibition of 1851, and the moving figures in connection with the Strasburg clock, are well known. Kempelen's "automaton chess-player" was not a true automaton, being really worked by a cripple concealed in the interior. Mr. J. N. Maskelyne's figures "Psycho" and "Zoe" (first exhibited in London 1875 and 1877 respectively) may also be classed as automata. The question whether "animals are automata" (i.e. act as machines without their action being due to their consciousness) has been often discussed from Descartes downwards. Self-acting machines, requiring but little attention, are sometimes called automatic.