The phrase “autonomy” has gained popularity in technology. Systems and gadgets of all stripes are categorized as “autonomous.” Self-driving automobiles, driverless trains, and certain unmanned aircraft and ships are examples. Furthermore, autonomous weapon systems may be seen as a future possibility or a current reality, depending on one’s definition.


Many ethical and regulatory discussions have been sparked by these technological advancements. Legislators are currently debating how autonomous systems will affect legal frameworks. However, there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding what autonomy actually means. When participants in regulatory arguments have different opinions about they tend to talk over each other.

  • Different definitions of autonomy exist.
  • Relationships underpin autonomy.
  • Self-reliance is task-specific.
  • A continuum is autonomy.
  • Reliability in independence
  • Important points
  • Additional reading

Autonomy has different meanings

The fact that different fields use the word “autonomy” in diverse ways contributes to the challenge. The discussion of autonomy has a long history in the fields of philosophy, ethics, and law. Therefore, the word has a rather clear definition. According to this philosophical interpretation, it entails self-control or self-governance. It speaks to an entity’s capacity to create and adhere to its own set of moral standards. This traces the word autonomy’s Greek roots, nómos, which means “law,” and autós, which means “self.”

Philosophical autonomy is a pretty high standard to speak of. Even humans don’t always have complete autonomy. Take into account the healthcare situation. One of the pillars of patient care is respect for people’s freedom to make knowledgeable decisions regarding their care.medical morality. But a variety of variables, including cognitive impairment and financial, social, and physical stress, can compromise patient . Thus, human-built and used technical systems are still a long way from reaching philosophical autonomy.


But in the context of engineering, autonomy usually refers to something simpler. In this context, autonomy describes a system’s capacity to perceive its surroundings and take action in them to achieve specific objectives. This in no way implies the capacity to create one’s own objectives and standards of behavior, like a person. These criteria are established by the designers and operators of technical systems. In its most basic form, technology is the capacity of a system to carry out a certain operation or function without needing to communicate in real time with a human operator.

A broad spectrum of technologies, both current and emerging, are captured by the technological conceptualization of autonomy. Therefore, it allows not only future regulatory difficulties but also the evaluation of present or impending legal ramifications. However, three features of technology need to be explained in more detail in order to be beneficial.

Autonomy is relational

An entity’s relationship to other entities is what is described, not the entity itself. In the abstract, autonomy is impossible. Only in the absence of someone or something else can one be autonomous.

The relationship between a human operator and an artificial system is the focus of technological autonomy. Therefore, autonomy is a gauge of the interaction between a human and a machine or a robot. As a result, defining an autonomous system based only on its technical specifications is difficult. A system’s level of autonomy is determined by how humans interact with it .

Autonomy is task-specific

Saying that a system is autonomous all the way through is a bit simplistic. It is possible for a system to be independent in certain aspects but not in others.

For instance, an airplane can stay on course and maintain altitude using a basic autopilot. As a result, such an aircraft can fly alone. Perhaps a more advanced system could figure out how to get from point A to point B while avoiding obstacles. There would also be navigational autonomy in such a scenario. Certain systems possess the ability to do autonomous landing, often known as fully instrumental landing. However, in each of these scenarios, direct human intervention would still be required for tasks like takeoff and refueling. Stated differently, these functions would not be independent.

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