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A E C  F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"

I would like to take up again Pattie Maes' view on autonomous agents and
their usefulness. As with all human made technologies the autonomy of an
agent can only be a relative one. The construction of an agent is always
based on some explicitly imposed human goal. But nevertheless something
has changed within our technologies over time. How to explain this
increase of autonomy and how to clarify its meaning?

I think that in contrast to classical (mechanical) technologies the more
modern ones show a higher degree of freedom with respect to HOW they meet
the extrinsic goal. This has become possible by the fact that for
information- and communication technologies (ICTs) the causal links are no
longer restricted to a one-to-one relationship. In classical mechanics
most of the relationships between cause and effect are straight forward,
there is one and only one effect taking place in response to a single
cause. A mechanical machine will mostly perform in a completely
predetermined way. If it does not work like the engineer has expected we
call the machine broken, ruined, and it has to be repaired. Not so with
information technologies. Here the extrinsic goal is moved to a higher
level of abstraction, so the machine can fulfill the goal in different
ways because Newton's Law "actio est reactio"  (assuring a one-to-one
relationship between cause and effect) is no longer valid. For modern
technologies Newton's Law has to be replaced by "actio non est reactio".

Interestingly enough this debate can be dated back to Newton and Leibniz
themselves who had a dispute about similar aspects of autonomy.  While
Newton was engaged in the finding of eternal laws created by God, and on
this basis expected to be able to predict and to explain Nature by
mechanical materialism, Leibniz - abhorred by this deterministic concept -
missed the soul, human creativity, freedom and emotions, and a place,
where God could be present in an explicit way. His "Monads"  reflect their
origin in God. We - I suppose - could interpret them as an early concept
to explain the part of the world which was left out by mechanical
materialism. Our contemporary technologies show in a practical way that
there is more to be found in our world and invented than just plain
deterministic mechanisms. In my opinion there is no need to stick to
Leibniz's interpretation of the monads as being divinely created. An
adequate concept of information processes could allow for an explanation
as well, but this is still a task for future work (although some elements,
related to the theory of self-organization, philosophy of emergence, are
already available). 

Hope to see u soon at the ARS ELECTRONICA*


Peter Fleissner   <peter.fleissner@jrc.es>
Head of Unit
Technology, Employment and Competitiveness
Institute for Prospective Technological Studies
World Trade Center 
Isla de la Cartuja
E-41092 Sevilla

Tel: +34-5-4488325
FAX: +34-5-4488359

WWW: http://www.jrc.es/welcome.html.en

*[Peter will speak/demonstrate/perform at the live FleshFactor Symposium
  in Linz, September 9-10, 1997, T.S.]

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