Norm-establishing and norm-following in autonomous agency

Together with Matthew Egbert I am about to publish in the Artificial Life Journal a paper entitled “Norm-establishing and norm-following in autonomous agency“. The paper, selected by the special issue editor from ECAL2012 conference, has taken much more effort and dedication than originally expected and we are very proud of the result. We consider it to be an important contribution to philosophy of biology and cognitive science, particularly to the organismic tradition and, more specifically, to the enactive theory and autonomous systems research. The paper illustrates with a minimal model what normativity precisely means. We believe it to be of interested to a wide audience, ranging from philosophy of science to protocell research. You can download the latest version here.

ABSTRACT: One of the fundamental aspects that distinguishes acts from mere events is that actions are subject to a normative dimension that is absent from other types of interaction: natural agents behave according to intrinsic norms that determine their adaptive or maladaptive nature. We briefly review current and historical attempts to naturalize normativity from an organism-centred perspective that conceives of living systems as defining their own norms in a continuous process of self-maintenance of their individuality. We identify and propose solutions for two problems of contemporary approaches to viability and normative behaviour in this tradition: 1) How is the topology of the viability space to be defined in an emergent manner that does not presuppose rigid boundaries? 2) How to include in theoretical advances and computational models of natural agents both the processes that establish norms and those that result in norm-following behaviour. In this paper we present a minimal metabolic system that is coupled to a gradient climbing chemotactic mechanism. Through studying the interaction between metabolic dynamics and environmental resource conditions, we identify an emergent viable region and precarious region where the system tends to die should environmental conditions remain the same. We develop the concept of ormative field as the change of environmental conditions required to bring the system back to its viable region. Norm-following or normative action is defined as the course of behaviour whose effect is positively correlated with the normative field. We generalize from our minimal model to a wider range of theoretical and modelling interest, and close with some discussion about the limitation of our model, possible extensions and some final reflexions around the nature of norms and teleology in agency.
Regions of the Viability Space

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