Calibrating User’s Perception of Automation

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting in a symposium on automation in safety critical domains arranged by Dr. Arathi Sethumadhavan at the American Psychological Association annual meeting.  My fellow participants were:

  • Arathi Sethumadhavan, PhD (Medtronic)
  • Poornima Madhavan, PhD (Old Dominion University)
  • Julian Sanchez, PhD (Medtronic)
  • Ericka Rovira, PhD (United States Military Academy)

Everyone presented on issues related to human-automation interaction.  I do not have their permission to show their slides so this post is more generally a lay-person’s description of one aspect of automation research:  consequences of perceptions of automation reliability.

One of the most popular types of news items we post is stories of when people rely too much on unreliable automation with sometimes funny or tragic consequences.  For example, when people use in-car navigation/GPS systems and slavishly follow its directives without judging conditions for themselves.

This is a classic example of a mis-match between the user’s perception of how reliable the system is and how it actually is.  See the figure below:

from Gempler & Wickens, 1998

The Y-axis is how the user perceives the system’s reliability while the X-axis is the actual reliability of the system.  Let’s focus on the two zones in the upper left and lower right represent.  When the user perceives that the automation is more reliable than it actually is (RED CLOUD) they will over-trust the automation and perhaps rely too much on its occasionally faulty advice (this is where much of the GPS horror stories lie).  People may get their mis-judgements about the reliability from many sources (marketing literature, limited use, or recommendations).

For example, my digital camera has an auto mode that claims to be able to detect many types of settings (macro, landscape, night) and automatically adjust settings to suit.  However, in practice it seems less reliable than the marketing literature suggests.  The company exhorts me to TRUST iA (their name for automation)!

So in a few situations where I over-rely on iA, I end up with images that are too dim/bright, etc.  The system doesn’t tell me how it came to its decision leaving me out of the loop.  Now, I just don’t use iA mode.

The other zone (YELLOW CLOUD) is less studied but it represents situations where the automation is actually very reliable but people perceive it as not very reliable and so will depend on it less–even when their performance degrades as a result.  Examples are more difficult to come up with but one might be the example of health aids that doctors might use to assist in diagnosis of patients.

Finally, the line in the middle is proper calibration: perceived reliability is perfectly correlated with the actual reliability of the automation.  This is where we want to be most of the time.  When our calibration is perfect, we will rely on the automation when we should and NOT when we shouldn’t.

Getting people to properly calibrate their trust and dependence on automation is a complex human factors psychological problem.