Stretching the Traditional Notion of Experiment in Computing: Explorative Experiments.

Research paper by Viola V Schiaffonati

Indexed on: 29 May '15Published on: 29 May '15Published in: Science and Engineering Ethics


Experimentation represents today a 'hot' topic in computing. If experiments made with the support of computers, such as computer simulations, have received increasing attention from philosophers of science and technology, questions such as "what does it mean to do experiments in computer science and engineering and what are their benefits?" emerged only recently as central in the debate over the disciplinary status of the discipline. In this work we aim at showing, also by means of paradigmatic examples, how the traditional notion of controlled experiment should be revised to take into account a part of the experimental practice in computing along the lines of experimentation as exploration. Taking inspiration from the discussion on exploratory experimentation in the philosophy of science-experimentation that is not theory-driven-we advance the idea of explorative experiments that, although not new, can contribute to enlarge the debate about the nature and role of experimental methods in computing. In order to further refine this concept we recast explorative experiments as socio-technical experiments, that test new technologies in their socio-technical contexts. We suggest that, when experiments are explorative, control should be intended in a posteriori form, in opposition to the a priori form that usually takes place in traditional experimental contexts.