Dimensions of autonomy in human–algorithm relations

Published in:
New Media & Society

This article reorients research on agentic engagements with algorithms from the perspective of autonomy. We separate two horizons of algorithmic relations – the instrumental and the intimate – and analyse how they shape different dimensions of autonomous agency. Against the instrumental horizon, algorithmic systems are technical procedures ordering social life at a distance and using rules that can only partly be known. Autonomy is activated as reflective and informed choice and the ability to enact one’s goals and values amid technological constraints. Meanwhile, the intimate horizon highlights affective aspects of autonomy in relation to algorithmic systems as they creep ever closer to our minds and bodies. Here, quests for autonomy arise from disturbance and comfort in a position of vulnerability. We argue that the dimensions of autonomy guide us towards issues of specific ethical and political importance, given that autonomy is never merely a theoretical concern, but also a public value.

Laura Savolainen & Minna Ruckenstein