There Is No Agency Without Attention


For decades AI researchers have built agents that are capable of carrying out tasks that require human-level or human-like intelligence. During this time, questions of how these programs compared in kind to humans have surfaced and led to beneficial interdisciplinary discussions, but conceptual progress has been slower than technological progress. Within the past decade, the term agency has taken on new import as intelligent agents have become a noticeable part of our everyday lives. Research on autonomous vehicles and personal assistants has expanded into private industry with new and increasingly capable products surfacing as a matter of routine. This wider use of AI technologies has raised questions about legal and moral agency at the highest levels of government (National Science and Technology Council 2016) and drawn the interest of other academic disciplines and the general public. Within this context, the notion of an intelligent agent in AI is too coarse and in need of refinement. We suggest that the space of AI agents can be subdivided into classes, where each class is defined by an associated degree of control.

AI Magazine
Will Bridewell
Will Bridewell
Research Scientist in Artificial Intelligence

My research interests include the relationship between attention, cognition, and intentional action.