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Concept# Automata theory

Summary

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.
Automata theory is closely related to formal language theory. In this context, automata are used as finite representations of formal languages that may be infinite. Automata are often classified by the class of formal languages they can recognize, as in the Chomsky hierarchy, which describes a nesting relationship between major classes of automata. Automata play a major role in the theory of computation, compiler construction, artificial intelligence, parsing and formal verification.
The theory of abstract automata was developed in the mid-20th century in connection with finite automata. Automata theory was initially considered a branch of mathematical systems theory, studying the behavior of discrete-parameter systems. Early work in automata theory differed from previous work on systems by using abstract algebra to describe information systems rather than differential calculus to describe material systems. The theory of the finite-state transducer was developed under different names by different research communities.

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