First International Symposium on
30th - 31st January 2004, Villa Nobel, Sanremo, Italy

Autonomous Systems?

Henrik I. Christensen
Professor, Director, Centre for Autonomous Systems
Kungliga Tekniska Hoegskolan
SE-100 44 Stockholm, Sweden
Phone: +46 8790 6792 , Fax: +46 8723 0302 , E-mail:

Technology is today enabling a steady growing introduction of technology in our everyday life. The technology allows us to construct intelligent aids to be used in daily life. These system can both be in terms of assistive technology for elderly and handicapped and fully autonomous systems for independent operation on behalf of the user. The introduction of these technologies open a number of important questions to be addressed. The issues include questions related to privacy, control, dignity and social involvement.

Many of todays autonomous systems include a component of learning that allows users to adopt the systems to their preferences. Indirectly the systems encodes information of user identity, preferences, etc. How can it be ensured that such information will not be shared with outsiders, and how can it be guaranteed that the information is not misused for commercial or other purposes. In addition the use of autonomous systems that move around in a home environment might allow for monitoring / surveillance which implicitly might challenge the privacy of of homes. How can the potential of new technology be made available without a breach of confidentiality and how can the options available to explained to the end-user in a fashion that allow the user to determine a suitable level of interaction.

In terms of control there is always the risk that the user might be blinded by the technology and implicitly might have a sense lack of control. It is here crucial to get a sense for the options available and to provide ALL users with enough information to allow them to be in control of the facilities provided. Without strong methods for user control and adequate information the technology could pose an obstacle to progress rather than servoing as an aid.

Technology allow us to solve many of the everyday problems for elderly and handicapped. With careful consideration of how the technology is introduced there is a risk that it may replace human interaction. I.e. the house maid might be replaced by a technical aid and thus reduce social interaction. In a society where economic factors at times define our health care policies it is crucial that these issues are carefully considered to avoid isolation of people.

The issues of privacy, control and social interaction will be discussed in this presentation and a number of case-studies will be used to illustrate the potential and dangers of new autonomous technology.

Draft 18th Jan '04