Xabier Barandiaran, Ezequiel Di Paolo and Marieke Rohde have recently submitted the final version of a paper of interested to this blog: “Defining Agency. Individuality, Normativity, Asymmetry and Spatio-temporality in Action“, to be published soon on a special issue on Agency edited by Marieke Rohde and Takashi Ikegami on Adaptive Behavior Journal. The paper provides a explicit definition of minimal agency, hoping to be applicable to modellers and to provide a step forward to clarify and deepen into essential aspects of agency with a very special focus on the background of this blog: biological grounding of cognition, autopoiesis, enactive cognitive science, dynamicis approaches, etc.
ABSTRACT: The concept of agency is of crucial importance in cognitive science and artificial intelligence, and it is often used as an intuitive and rather uncontroversial term, in contrast to more abstract and theoretically heavy-weighted terms like “intentionality”, “rationality” or “mind”. However, most of the available definitions of agency are either too loose or unspecific to allow for a progressive scientific program. They implicitly and unproblematically assume the features that characterize agents, thus obscuring the full potential and challenge of modeling agency. We identify three conditions that a system must meet in order to be considered as a genuine agent: a) a system must define its own individuality, b) it must be the active source of activity in its environment (interactional asymmetry) and c) it must regulate this activity in relation to certain norms (normativity). We find that even minimal forms of proto-cellular systems can already provide a paradigmatic example of genuine agency. By abstracting away some specific details of minimal models of living agency we define the kind of organization that is capable to meet the required conditions for agency (which is not restricted to living organisms). On this basis, we define agency as an autonomous organization that adaptively regulates its coupling with its environment and contributes to sustaining itself as a consequence. We find that spatiality and temporality are the two fundamental domains in which agency spans at different scales. We conclude by giving an outlook to the road that lies ahead in the pursuit to understand, model and synthesize agents.
KEYWORDS: Agency, individuality, interactional asymmetry, normativity, spatiality, temporality.