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072 - Liberating the Computer Arts


Computer-based technology has had a major influence over business, politics and education worldwide. The practical consequences of ubiquitous computing are easy to see, but there has also been a more subtle impact of the Information Age upon the way we view the world. The power of the computer to transform our interactions with our environment and each other through the digitisation and symbolic representation of observables is patent. These developments have enhanced the intellectual influence of a theoretical framework endorsed by classical computer science, yet - at the same time - they disguise from the user and expose to the designer the limitations of that very framework itself. In the process, received computer science and its associated technologies have helped to legitimise and promote an incomplete view of science, and detracted from the real and potential role of the arts and humanities in shaping our lives.

This paper examines these issues with reference to the search for an alternative software culture that can better serve the agenda of the computer arts. It attributes the difficulties in establishing such a culture not merely to commercial and political vested interests, but to the problem of integrating typical computer use with human sense-making activities rooted in engagement with the world, the acquisition of experience and reflection upon that experience. Addressing this problem involves a reappraisal of the philosophical roots of classical computer science that is motivated in this context by contrasting the paradigms for the representation of experience that might be seen as distinguishing the sciences from the arts. The paper concludes with an introduction to a philosophical stance and practical approach to computing, originating from research in the Empirical Modelling research group at the University of Warwick [EM01], that is aimed at liberating the computer arts.