Autoinduction (AI), the response to self-produced chemical signals, is widespread in the bacterial world. This process controls vastly different target functions, such as luminescence, nutrient acquisition, and biofilm formation, in different ways and integrates additional environmental and physiological cues. This diversity raises questions about unifying principles that underlie all AI systems. Here, we suggest that such core principles exist. We argue that the general purpose of AI systems is the homeostatic control of costly cooperative behaviors, including, but not limited to, secreted public goods. First, costly behaviors require preassessment of their efficiency by cheaper AI signals, which we encapsulate in a hybrid “push-pull” model. The “push” factors cell density, diffusion, and spatial clustering determine when a behavior becomes effective. The relative importance of each factor depends on each species' individual ecological context and life history. In turn, “pull” factors, often stress cues that reduce the activation threshold, determine the cellular demand for the target behavior. Second, control is homeostatic because AI systems, either themselves or through accessory mechanisms, not only initiate but also maintain the efficiency of target behaviors. Third, AI-controlled behaviors, even seemingly noncooperative ones, are generally cooperative in nature, when interpreted in the appropriate ecological context. The escape of individual cells from biofilms, for example, may be viewed as an altruistic behavior that increases the fitness of the resident population by reducing starvation stress. The framework proposed here helps appropriately categorize AI-controlled behaviors and allows for a deeper understanding of their ecological and evolutionary functions.