Robotics, philosophy and the problems of autonomy

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Robotics can be seen as a cognitive technology, assisting us in understanding various aspects of autonomy. In this paper I will investigate a difference between the interpretations of autonomy that exist within robotics and philosophy. Based on a brief review of some historical developments I suggest that within robotics a technical interpretation of autonomy arose, related to the independent performance of tasks. This interpretation is far removed from philosophical analyses of autonomy focusing on the capacity to choose goals for oneself. This difference in interpretation precludes a straightforward debate between philosophers and roboticists about the autonomy of artificial and organic creatures. In order to narrow the gap I will identify a third problem of autonomy, related to the issue of what makes one’s goals genuinely one’s own. I will suggest that it is the body, and the ongoing attempt to maintain its stability, that makes goals belong to the system. This issue could function as a suitable focal point for a debate in which work in robotics can be related to issues in philosophy. Such a debate could contribute to a growing awareness of the way in which our bodies matter to our autonomy.


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