The agent’s choice

Next to context, purpose, means, and decision-making, an agent must have one more thing: choice. An agent must have some alternative action mode available, so that its decision can choose the better of two options. In this way, the agent reaches its objective through a succession of decisions, each of which achieves a relative advantage: the outcome of the chosen option is better than the outcome of the rejected option.

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.