Tagged: hci

More on “context aware” systems

Erickson (2002) argues that “context awareness” is motivated by a desire for systems to take action, autonomously, leaving us out of the loop.  The ability to do so accurately requires a lot of intelligence to draw inferences from the available sensors.  Erickson reckons the project is doomed to failure.  However he thinks we might make some progress if humans are brought back into the loop and given the contextual data in rawer form so they can interpret it and take appropriate action themselves.  Not sure.  The example he gives can easily be modified to reveal potentially damaging information about a user’s whereabouts and actions… (exercise to reader):

“Lee has been motionless in a dim place with high ambient sound for the last 45 minutes. Continue with call or leave a message.”

Reminds me of the impressive-looking thesis by Nora Balfe (2010) on a safety critical railway signalling systems.  For instance from the conclusions:

“Feedback from [the system] was … found to be very poor, resulting in low understanding and low predictability of the automation. As signallers cannot predict what the automation will do in all situations they do not feel they can trust it to set routes and frequently step in to ensure trains are routed in the correct order. In the observation study, the differences found between high and low interveners in terms of feedback, understanding and predictability confirm the importance of good mental models in the development and calibration of trust…”

Reference

Balfe, N.(2010) Appropriate automation of rail signalling systems: a human factors study. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

Erickson, T. (2002). Some problems with the notion of context-aware computing: Ask not for whom the cell phone tolls. Communications of the ACM, 45(2), 102-104.

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Some problems with context awareness

Nice list of examples of past problems, from Erickson (2002):

  • Spying a newsrack, Tom pulls his rented car to the side of the street and hops out to grab a paper. The car, recognizing the door has just closed and the engine is running, locks its doors.
  • In the midst of her finely honed closing pitch, Susan’s prospective clients watch intently as her screensaver kicks in and the carefully crafted text of her slide slowly morphs into flowing abstract shapes that gradually dissolve into blackness.
  • “What a cretin,” Roger mutters as the CEO finishes his presentation, unaware, for the moment, that the high-tech speaker phone in the table’s center has triangulated on his whisper and upped its gain to broadcast his remark to the meeting’s remote audience.

Reference

Thomas Erickson (2002). Some problems with the notion of context-aware computing: Ask not for whom the cell phone tolls. Communications of the ACM, 45(2), 102-104.