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An automaton (/ɔːˈtɒmətən/; plural: automata or automatons) is a relatively self-operating machine, or control mechanism designed to automatically follow a sequence of operations, or respond to predetermined instructions.[1] Some automata, such as bellstrikers in mechanical clocks, are designed to give the illusion to the casual observer that they are operating under their own power or will, like a mechanical robot.[2] Since long ago, the term is commonly associated with automated puppets that resemble moving humans or animals, built to impress and/or to entertain people.


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There are many examples of automata in Greek mythology: Hephaestus created automata for his workshop;[6][7] Talos was an artificial man of bronze; King Alkinous of the Phaiakians employed gold and silver watchdogs.[8][9] According to Aristotle, Daedalus used quicksilver to make his wooden statue of Aphrodite move.[10][11] In other Greek legends he used quicksilver to install voice in his moving statues.

The automata in the Hellenistic world were intended as tools, toys, religious spectacles, or prototypes for demonstrating basic scientific principles. Numerous water-powered automata were built by Ktesibios, a Greek inventor and the first head of the Great Library of Alexandria; for example, he "used water to sound a whistle and make a model owl move. He had invented the world's first 'cuckoo clock'".[a] This tradition continued in Alexandria with inventors such as the Greek mathematician Hero of Alexandria (sometimes known as Heron), whose writings on hydraulics, pneumatics, and mechanics described siphons, a fire engine, a water organ, the aeolipile, and a programmable cart.[12][13]Philo of Byzantium was famous for his inventions.

Complex mechanical devices are known to have existed in Hellenistic Greece, though the only surviving example is the Antikythera mechanism, the earliest known analog computer.[14] The clockwork is thought to have come originally from Rhodes, where there was apparently a tradition of mechanical engineering; the island was renowned for its automata; to quote Pindar's seventh Olympic Ode:

Other notable examples of automata include Archytas' dove, mentioned by Aulus Gellius.[17] Similar Chinese accounts of flying automata are written of the 5th century BC Mohist philosopher Mozi and his contemporary Lu Ban, who made artificial wooden birds (ma yuan) that could successfully fly according to the Han Fei Zi and other texts.[18]

The manufacturing tradition of automata continued in the Greek world well into the Middle Ages. On his visit to Constantinople in 949 ambassador Liutprand of Cremona described automata in the emperor Theophilos' palace, including

Similar automata in the throne room (singing birds, roaring and moving lions) were described by Luitprand's contemporary the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, in his book De Ceremoniis (Perì tês Basileíou Tákseōs).

In the mid-8th century, the first wind powered automata were built: "statues that turned with the wind over the domes of the four gates and the palace complex of the Round City of Baghdad". The "public spectacle of wind-powered statues had its private counterpart in the 'Abbasid palaces where automata of various types were predominantly displayed."[20] Also in the 8th century, the Muslim alchemist, Jābir ibn Hayyān (Geber), included recipes for constructing artificial snakes, scorpions, and humans that would be subject to their creator's control in his coded Book of Stones. In 827, Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun had a silver and golden tree in his palace in Baghdad, which had the features of an automatic machine. There were metal birds that sang automatically on the swinging branches of this tree built by Muslim inventors and engineers.[21][page needed] The Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadir also had a silver and golden tree in his palace in Baghdad in 917, with birds on it flapping their wings and singing.[22] In the 9th century, the Banū Mūsā brothers invented a programmable automatic flute player and which they described in their Book of Ingenious Devices.[23]

Al-Jazari described complex programmable humanoid automata amongst other machines he designed and constructed in the Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices in 1206.[24] His automaton was a boat with four automatic musicians that floated on a lake to entertain guests at royal drinking parties.[25] His mechanism had a programmable drum machine with pegs (cams) that bump into little levers that operate the percussion. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and drum patterns if the pegs were moved around.[26] According to Charles B. Fowler, the automata were a "robot band" which performed "more than fifty facial and body actions during each musical selection."[27]

Samarangana Sutradhara, a Sanskrit treatise by Bhoja (11th century), includes a chapter about the construction of mechanical contrivances (automata), including mechanical bees and birds, fountains shaped like humans and animals, and male and female dolls that refilled oil lamps, danced, played instruments, and re-enacted scenes from Hindu mythology.[32][33][34]

At the end of the thirteenth century, Robert II, Count of Artois built a pleasure garden at his castle at Hesdin that incorporated several automata as entertainment in the walled park. The work was conducted by local workmen and overseen by the Italian knight Renaud Coignet. It included monkey marionettes, a sundial supported by lions and "wild men", mechanized birds, mechanized fountains and a bellows-operated organ. The park was famed for its automata well into the fifteenth century before it was destroyed by English soldiers in the sixteenth.[35][36][37]

The Renaissance witnessed a considerable revival of interest in automata. Hero's treatises were edited and translated into Latin and Italian. Hydraulic and pneumatic automata, similar to those described by Hero, were created for garden grottoes.

Giovanni Fontana, a Paduan engineer in 1420, developed Bellicorum instrumentorum liber[b] which includes a puppet of a camelid driven by a clothed primate twice the height of a human being and an automaton of Mary Magdalene.[40] He also created mechanical devils and rocket-propelled animal automata.[citation needed]

While functional, early clocks were also often designed as novelties and spectacles which integrated features of automata. Many big and complex clocks with automated figures were built as public spectacles in European town centres. One of the earliest of these large clocks was the Strasbourg Clock, built in the 14th century which takes up the entire side of a cathedral wall. It contained an astronomical calendar, automata depicting animals, saints and the life of Christ. The clock still functions to this day, but has undergone several restorations since its initial construction. The Prague astronomical clock was built in 1410, animated figures were added from the 17th century onwards.[41] Numerous clockwork automata were manufactured in the 16th century, principally by the goldsmiths of the Free Imperial Cities of central Europe. These wondrous devices found a home in the cabinet of curiosities or Wunderkammern of the princely courts of Europe.

In 1454, Duke Philip created an entertainment show named The extravagant Feast of the Pheasant, which was intended to influence the Duke's peers to participate in a crusade against the Ottomans but ended up being a grand display of automata, giants, and dwarves.[42]

Other 18th century automaton makers include the prolific Swiss Pierre Jaquet-Droz (see Jaquet-Droz automata) and his son Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz, and his contemporary Henri Maillardet. Maillardet, a Swiss mechanic, created an automaton capable of drawing four pictures and writing three poems. Maillardet's Automaton is now part of the collections at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. Belgian-born John Joseph Merlin created the mechanism of the Silver Swan automaton, now at Bowes Museum.[54] A musical elephant made by the French clockmaker Hubert Martinet in 1774 is one of the highlights of Waddesdon Manor.[55] Tipu's Tiger is another late-18th century example of automata, made for Tipu Sultan, featuring a European soldier being mauled by a tiger. Catherine the Great of Russia was gifted a very large and elaborate Peacock Clock created by James Cox in 1781 now on display in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

According to philosopher Michel Foucault, Frederick the Great, king of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, was "obsessed" with automata.[56] According to Manuel de Landa, "he put together his armies as a well-oiled clockwork mechanism whose components were robot-like warriors".

The period 1860 to 1910 is known as "The Golden Age of Automata". Mechanical coin-operated fortune tellers were introduced to boardwalks in Britain and America.[59] In Paris during this period, many small family based companies of automata makers thrived. From their workshops they exported thousands of clockwork automata and mechanical singing birds around the world. Although now rare and expensive, these French automata attract collectors worldwide. The main French makers were Bontems, Lambert, Phalibois, Renou, Roullet & Decamps, Theroude and Vichy.

Abstract automata theory started in mid-20th century with finite automata[60] and is applied in branches of formal & natural science including computer science, physics, biology, as well as linguistics.

Contemporary automata continue this tradition with an emphasis on art, rather than technological sophistication. Contemporary automata are represented by the works of Cabaret Mechanical Theatre in the United Kingdom, Thomas Kuntz,[61] Arthur Ganson, Joe Jones and Le Défenseur du Temps by French artist Jacques Monestier.

Automata theory is the study of abstract machines and automata, as well as the computational problems that can be solved using them. It is a theory in theoretical computer science. The word automata comes from the Greek word αὐτόματος, which means "self-acting, self-willed, self-moving". An automaton (automata in plural) is an abstract self-propelled computing device which follows a predetermined sequence of operations automatically. An automaton with a finite number of states is called a Finite Automaton (FA) or Finite-State Machine (FSM). The figure on the right illustrates a finite-state machine, which is a well-known type of automaton. This automaton consists of states (represented in the figure by circles) and transitions (represented by arrows). As the automaton sees a symbol of input, it makes a transition (or jump) to another state, according to its transition function, which takes the previous state and current input symbol as its arguments. 041b061a72


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