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Autonomy vs. Agency

The thermometer informs of what the temperature is of the surrounding environment. The thermostat changes the temperature of the surrounding environment. The thermometer is therefore autonomous because it automatically changes based on the temperature. The thermostat requires an input in order to change the surrounding temperature.

Similarly, computers and humans have instances when they act like a thermometer and as a thermostat. Computers are autonomous when they perform pre-programmed functions such as telling time. I am autonomous when I do daily tasks such as blinking and breathing which does not require my constant attention. Computers have agency when they are performing tasks that can include many different variations. Such as solving different types of Rubik’s Cubes, or playing chess against many different people. I have agency when I have the freedom to make any decision that I want, which will ultimately bring a change around in myself, my friends, my family, and one day the world.

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