Body of physical and logical principles underlying the operation of any electromechanical device (an automaton) that converts information input in one form into another, or into some action, according to an algorithm. Norbert Wiener and Alan M. Turing are regarded as pioneers in the field. In computer science, automata theory is concerned with the construction of robots (see robotics) from basic building blocks of automatons. The best example of a general automaton is an electronic digital computer. Networks of automata may be designed to mimic human behaviour. Seealso artificial intelligence; Turing machine.
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Mechanical object, either functional (such as a clock) or decorative (such as a miniature singing bird), that is self-operating. Devices set in motion by water, falling weights, and steam were in use in the 1st century. Decorative mechanical objects were made for ecclesiastical use and table ornaments in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Spectacular fountains and waterworks can be seen in 16th-century Italian gardens; elaborate mechanical devices (such as the chess-playing Turk) were popular in the 18th–19th century. Except for some works by Carl Fabergé, the production of expensive automatons virtually ceased by the 20th century.
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