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What is Empirical Modelling?

Empirical Modelling as Thinking with Computers

Empirical Modelling (EM) is about making artefacts to support human thinking. Interacting with such artefacts using computer technology enables us to think with computers, and is quite unlike conventional interaction with programs. The former is personal and cognitive, to do with exploring experience and meaning; the latter is impersonal and circumscribed, to do with achieving functionality and efficiency. EM proceeds by elaborating scripts to create interactive artefacts that are works of the imagination, reflecting experience and current understanding but open to many interpretations.

Thinking that involves deliberation and thinking that has become automatic, as experienced in vision and language, interact intimately in our brains. We are discovering ways of establishing similarly subtle forms of interaction with, and within, computer artefacts. Key to this is the ability to represent, compose and interact with our construals of situations in such artefacts. In this sense it is possible to think with computers.

Empirical Modelling practice, principles and philosophy

To date, the principal contributions of EM in respect of practice, principles and philosophy are:

  • practice: giving a better account of modern computing practice than the classical theory of computation can sustain;

    EM is based upon constructing artefacts to reflect the patterns of observables, dependencies and agency that are encountered directly in personal experience; such artefacts acquire meaning primarily through the experience they afford the modeller in skilful interaction, and not necessarily through representing abstract input-output relationships;

  • principles: developing more effective principles for software and system development than are offered by approaches such as object-oriented engineering, formal methods and extreme programming;

    EM engages with the sense-making activities that link our personal subjective experience to what may be construed as objective shared realities; through this engagement, it supplies a foundation for software development as an amethodical situated problem-solving activity.

  • philosophy: identifying a philosophical stance than can address the fundamental issues raised by new developments and aspirations in computing and AI.

    EM identifies knowledge as rooted in the personal stream of thought, and meaning as associated with relationships that are directly apprehended in personal experience; in this way, it can embrace aspects of computing that admit no satisfactory treatment through formal language and theory alone.

In summary: EM is centrally concerned with the way in which understanding emerges through life 'lived forwards'. Such understanding enables experience to mould our interaction. Where computing is concerned, this is the basis for identifying the reliable devices that underlie computing systems, the programs and interactive processes that can be developed in conjunction with them, and the social organisation, modes of observation, and skills in interaction that are required in their application.