Category Archives: automation

With automated tagging, Web links can surprise

I‘ve previously posted on the topic of tagging. As more products attempt to automate the process of creating tags from content, more problems are bound to appear like below.  A pretty clear case of automation gone wrong!:

It wasn’t what anyone expected to see while perusing a news article. But there, in the final paragraph of an online story about the call girl involved in the Eliot Spitzer scandal, Yahoos automated system was inviting readers to browse through photos of underage girls.

Yahoo Shortcuts, which more frequently offers to help readers search for news and Web sites on topics like “California” or “President Bush,” had in this case highlighted the words “underage girls.” Readers who passed their mouse over the phrase in The Associated Press story were shown a pop-up window with an image from Flickr, Yahoos photo-sharing Web site.

With automated tagging, Web links can surprise – Yahoo News

Human Factors Journal Celebrates 50 Years With Special Issue Highlighting Pivotal Research and Applications

The journal, Human Factors, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a retrospective of some pivotal research and areas. To celebrate, the entire issue is available online for free. Some highlights:

  • The Split Keyboard: An Ergonomics Success Story
  • The Role of Expertise Research and Human Factors in Capturing, Explaining, and Producing Superior Performance
  • Multiple Resources and Mental Workload
  • Putting the Brain to Work: Neuroergonomics Past, Present, and Future
  • Discoveries and Developments in Human-Computer Interaction
  • Aging and Human Performance

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society : Human Factors Journal Celebrates 50 Years With Special Issue Highlighting Pivotal Research and Applications

High-Tech Devices Keep Elderly Safe From Afar – NYTimes.com

First thing every morning, Lynn Pitet, of Cody, Wyo., checks her computer to see whether her mother, Helen Trost, has gotten out of bed, taken her medication and whether she is moving around inside her house hundreds of miles away in Minnesota.

High-Tech Devices Keep Elderly Safe From Afar – NYTimes.com

Overcoming the big downside of tagging

“A tag is a (relevant) keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (a picture, a geographic map, a blog entry, a video clip etc.), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification and search of information.” [Wikipedia]

Tagging is the process of assigning keywords or phrases to items. To be more concrete, many of us may have collections of bookmarks in our web browser. Tagging each bookmark with a relevant term allows them to be classified and categorized semantically, or by meaning.

But one major downside of tagging is that the user has to actually do the tagging; quite a bit of work if you have many thousands of bookmarks (or emails or photographs). Rashmi Sinha was one of the first people to start thinking about the cognitive requirements (i.e., what happens in the head) when users tag. Here is a figure from her analysis:

sep22_cognitive_tagging.gif

Her bottom line is that tagging is efficient (compared to other methods of organization) because when we are trying to think of keywords, we have lots of choices that come to mind (stage 1). However, I see this as a potential downside. It’s a heavy decision step that must be repeated for every item one needs to tag.

Several new products are on the horizon that aim to automate this very step:

The first (which is in private beta and thus unavailable) is Twine. The New York Times wrote an interesting story about Twine and how it automatically scans your documents to obtain relevant keywords.

Sarah Miller, a librarian at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, became a member of Twine’s test group in November, partly because she and her husband, Ethan, a doctoral candidate, needed a place to organize all the documents they wanted to share with each other about teaching and learning.

Ms. Miller likes Twine’s mechanized tagging abilities.

“If I save the URL of a Web page into my Twine account,” she said, “Twine will skim the page and turn it into tags automatically. It’s a way to tie together things that my husband and I find over days, and months and years.”

Twine has an option that allows people to do their own descriptive tagging, just as they might, for instance, use the Web service del.icio.us to assign labels to Web sites to help keep track of them.

“But my tagging is inefficient,” Ms. Miller said. “Personal vocabulary changes. It’s difficult to be consistent.”

A less automated solution is a new product (also in private beta) called zigtag. Zigtag relies on you entering a keyword, but afterwards will suggest additional keywords.

After entering an appropriate tag for a page, the user is presented with a list of matching keywords, each of which has been defined in Zigtag’s database. For example, after entering “Apple” into the search field, I was able to choose from “the computer company”, “the pomaceous fruit”, and “the record company”, among others. The process is painless and the integrated dictionary is fairly comprehensive. If you happen to stumble across a term that isn’t defined, you can easily request to have it added to the dictionary (and can place your own temporary tag). [Tech Crunch]

While these are nice solutions, i’ve always imagined that one side benefit of tagging was that the very effortful process of tagging could contribute to a more durable memory trace (the classic “generation effect“). Incidentally, some limited research of mine (PDF) has not borne this out. But in reality, how well do we want to really remember our bookmarks? Most of us are satisfied that it is stored somewhere and are less interested in retrieving it later unaided.

Trust in Automation

I’ve heard a great deal about trust and automation over the years, but this has to be my favorite new example of over-reliance on a system.

GPS routed bus under bridge, company says
“The driver of the bus carrying the Garfield High School girls softball team that hit a brick and concrete footbridge was using a GPS navigation system that routed the tall bus under the 9-foot bridge, the charter company’s president said Thursday.Steve Abegg, president of Journey Lines in Lynnwood, said the off-the-shelf navigation unit had settings for car, motorcycle, bus or truck. Although the unit was set for a bus, it chose a route through the Washington Park Arboretum that did not provide enough clearance for the nearly 12-foot-high vehicle, Abegg said. The driver told police he did not see the flashing lights or yellow sign posting the bridge height.

“We haven’t really had serious problems with anything, but here it’s presented a problem that we didn’t consider,” Abegg said of the GPS unit. “We just thought it would be a safe route because, why else would they have a selection for a bus?””

Link to original story (with pictures of sheared bus and bridge)

Indeed, why WOULD “they” have a selection for a bus? Here is an excerpt from the manual (Disclosure: I am assuming it’s the same model):

Calculate Routes for – Lets you take full advantage of the routing information built in the City Navigator maps. Some roads have vehicle-based restrictions. For example, a street or gate may be accessible by emergency vehicles only, or a residential street may not allow commercial trucking traffic. By specifying which vehicle type you are driving, you can avoid being routed through an area that is prohibited for your type of vehicle. Likewise, the ******** III may give you access to roads or turns that wouldn’t be available to normal traffic. The following options are available:

  • Car/Motorcycle
  • Truck (large semi-tractor/trailer
  • Bus
  • Emergency (ambulance, fire department, police, etc.)
  • Taxi
  • Delivery (delivery vehicles)
  • Bicycle (avoids routing through interstates and major highways)
  • Pedestrian”

gps-screen.gif

If we can assume no automation can be 100% reliable, at what point to people put too much trust in the system? At what point do they ignore the system in favor of more difficult methods, such as a paper map?At what point is a system so misleading that it should not be offered at all? Sanchez (2006) addressed this question and related type and timing of error to amount of trust placed in the automation. Trust declined sharply (for a time) after an error, so we may assume the Seattle driver might have re-checked the route manually had other (less catastrophic) errors occurred in the past.*

The spokesman for the GPS company is quoted in the above article as stating:

“Stoplights aren’t in our databases, either, but you’re still expected to stop for stoplights.”

I didn’t read the whole manual, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t say the GPS would warn you of stoplights, a closer analogy to the actual feature that contributed to the accident. This is a time where an apology and a promise of re-design might serve the company better than blaming their users.

*Not a good strategy for preventing accidents!

Other sources for information on trust and reliability of automated systems:

Lee, J.D. & See, K.A. (2004). Trust in Automation: Designing for Appropriate Reliance. Human Factors, 46, 50-80.

Parasuraman, R. & Riley, V. (1997). Humans and automation: use, misuse, disuse, abuse. Human Factors, 39, 230-253.

Wiegmann, D. A., Rich, A., Zhang, H. (2001). Automated diagnostic aids: the effects of aid reliability on users’ trust and reliance. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 2(4), 352-367.

The Cognitive Engineering Laboratory

Changing behavior via awareness of energy consumption

animationnew.gifThere is an episode of the television show Seinfeld (“The Dealership“) where Kramer is test driving a car. During the test drive, Kramer notices the fuel gauge is empty and he wants to know how far he can drive before he really runs out of gas.

While I haven’t gone that far I like to see how fuel efficiently I can possibly drive. My car has a dynamic display of instant fuel economy in miles per gallon (my record is 37.5 MPG in a non-hybrid sedan).

Why do I do this? I don’t know–perhaps an innate competitiveness. But I know others who do this as well. Why not capitalize on this change in behavior by including more energy consumption displays in more products and even in the home. The image on the left is a new home energy monitor which tracks electricity, gas, and water usage.

localcooling.jpgHere is a new application that displays energy usage on your PC (found via Download Squad).

While research is mixed on whether these devices actually lead to reduced energy consumption, they sure are fun to look at.

Unintended consequences of technology (more automation induced problems)

Satellite navigation devices have been blamed for causing millions of pounds worth of damage to railway crossings and bridges. Network Rail claims 2,000 bridges are hit every year by lorries that have been directed along inappropriate roads for their size.

I guess it would be cost-prohibitive to put this bridge information into the GPS databases…

[link, from Engadget]

Welcoming the Fireproof Elevator

fire.jpg

NPR ran a story earlier this week on an intriguing new human factors problem: fire-safe elevators.

The fall of the World Trade Center made it painfully obvious that stairs in skyscrapers do not function adequately in emergencies. We’ve always been warned away from elevators in case of fire, and I would go so far as to say it part of our collective knowledge from a young age. With the advent of elevators you should use in a fire comes a host of difficulties.

1. Training the zeitgeist: Not all elevators will be replaced, though new tall buildings will all have fireproof elevators. There may be new rules requiring older buildings over a certain size retrofit at least one elevator as fire safe.

  • This still makes fireproof elevators the exception instead of the rule. A great research question would be how to train people for a small-percentage case? You want the public, of all ages and experience levels, to know “In case of fire, use stairs, unless there is a fireproof elevator around, which you may or may not have noticed while you were in the building.”

2. Warnings and Information: The symbol in this post is probably familiar to all of you. I’ve occasionally seen it in Spanish, but not often. How will we indicate the difference between fire-safe elevators and other elevators?

  • Decals, signs and other indicators will not only have to indicate which elevators are safe and their purpose, but whether other elevators in the building are safe or unsafe. My building is square, with elevators on mirrored sides. If one were safe and the other not, I am sure I could remember which was safe, especially under the cognitive demands of an emergency.

3. Wayfinding and luck: Use of the elevator may depend on the location of the fire.

  • One of the original problems was that elevators opened onto smoke-filled or fire-filled floors. The story did not specify how the new elevators would avoid this. If there is a sensor that prevents them from opening onto such a floor, what if there are people desperately waiting for the elevator on that floor (as they have been re-trained to do)?
  • Should the system be even more complex, with people gathering on certain floors to await the elevator rescue? And then, if those floors are on fire..

In short, researchers start your engines! We have some training, warning, design, and way-finding work to do.

‘Mind-reading’ car keeps drivers focused

A “smart” dashboard that reduces the amount of information displayed to drivers during stressful periods on the road could be available in just five years, say German engineers.

A team from the Technical University of Berlin found they could improve reaction times in real driving conditions by monitoring drivers’ brains and reducing distractions during periods of high brain activity.

They were able to speed up driver’s reactions by as much as 100 milliseconds. It might not sound much, but this is enough to reduce breaking distance by nearly 3 metres when travelling at 100 kilometres per hour, says team leader Klaus-Robert Müller.

[NewScientist]

Automation, Consumer Products, and Energy Usage

Interesting article on the use of automated decision aids on consumer devices. The researchers used a vacuum cleaner that indicated when an area needed more cleaning or not. They wanted to determine if users would use less energy if they were told that an area was clean. They found that energy consumption was not reduced. This is contrasted with some research (I can’t think of the exact citation) that showed that when users saw their household energy consumption, they tended to be more mindful about reducing their usage.

Sauer, J., & Ruttinger, B. (2007). Automation and decision support in interactive consumer products. Ergonomics, 50, 902 – 919.

Abstract. This article presents two empirical studies (n = 30, n = 48) that are concerned with different forms of automation in interactive consumer products. The goal of the studies was to evaluate the effectiveness of two types of automation: perceptual augmentation (i.e. supporting users’ information acquisition and analysis); and control integration (i.e. supporting users’ action selection and implementation). Furthermore, the effectiveness of on-product information (i.e. labels attached to product) in supporting automation design was evaluated. The findings suggested greater benefits for automation in control integration than in perceptual augmentation alone, which may be partly due to the specific requirements of consumer product usage. If employed appropriately, on-product information can be a helpful means of information conveyance. The article discusses the implications of automation design in interactive consumer products while drawing on automation models from the work environment.