Applying mechanical philosophy to web science: The case of social machines

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Social machines are a prominent focus of attention for those who work in the field of Web and Internet science. Although a number of online systems have been described as social machines, there is, as yet, little consensus as to the precise meaning of the term “social machine.” This presents a problem for the scientific study of social machines, especially when it comes to the provision of a theoretical framework that directs, informs, and explicates the scientific and engineering activities of the social machine community. The present paper outlines an approach to understanding social machines that draws on recent work in the philosophy of science, especially work in so-called mechanical philosophy. This is what might be called a mechanistic view of social machines. According to this view, social machines are systems whose phenomena are explained via an appeal to socio-technical mechanisms. We show how this account is able to accommodate a number of existing attempts to define the social machine concept, thereby yielding an important opportunity for theoretical integration.
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Archival date: 2021-06-19
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