Defining agency

With the 'target list' of natural and artificial agents in mind, and focusing on their common characteristics, I can now propose a working definition of agency. At its core, agency is the ability to act. And that action has certain qualities: it serves some purpose, it has a direction towards some utility. Today, I'll offer a short defining phrase and then unpack its meaning piece by piece.

Socio-technical systems as artificial agents

This third group of artificial agents sits somewhere between organization and technology, as a blend of both. To understand the agency of socio-technical systems, it is helpful to remember that they belong to the complex adaptive systems. They are open, dynamic, and nonlinear; and they exhibit emergence and resilience.

Technologies as artificial agents

We use technologies to interact with our physical environment, essentially to obtain energy and raw material, and to transform them into "whatever it is that we need". Until recently, technologies were firmly "under our thumb". That historic certainty is fading fast. In that emerging story, robots, algorithms, and Artificial Intelligence feature as prominent examples.