This takes the metaphor of the "autonomic nervous system;" the human body has various aspects that can operate both consciously as well as automatically. Consider...
We can certainly control our breathing; this control can be essential, when diving underwater, and tends to be important when engaging in martial arts. On the other hand, we still breathe when asleep.
The steps taken when walking may be controlled expressly, but frequently, we prefer to concentrate on watching our surroundings, or other things.
Driving involves various technical actions, but an experienced driver will expend more of his or her concentration on actions other than the technicalities of how to hold the steering wheel or how hard they are pressing pedals.
When applied to computers, the notion is to try to establish increasing levels of automation to "systems management" in order to allow systems to be increasingly driven by automated policy as opposed to lurching around as humans notice a need to change things.
IBM is a major initiator of research in this area.
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