An automaton is a mathematical model for a finite state machine (FSM). An FSM is a machine that, given an input of symbols, jumps through a series of states according to a transition function (which can be expressed as a table). In the common "Mealy" variety of FSMs, this transition function tells the automaton which state to go to next given a current state and a current symbol.
The input is read symbol by symbol, until it is consumed completely (think of it as a tape with a word written on it, that is read by a reading head of the automaton; the head moves forward over the tape, reading one symbol at a time). Once the input is depleted, the automaton is said to have stopped.
Depending on the state in which the automaton stops, it's said that the automaton either accepts or rejects the input. If it landed in an accept state, then the automaton accepts the word. If, on the other hand, it lands on a reject-accept state, the word is rejected. The set of all the words accepted by an automaton is called the language accepted by the automaton.
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