Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Donald Norman on the design of intelligent machines

Make machines that help us thing ...

"This morning I was lucky enough to attend a talk at U of T by Donald Norman.

His talk was based on his upcoming book, The Design of Future Things, which discusses “the role that automation plays in such everyday places as the home, and automobile.” The main thesis of Norman’s new book seems to be “intelligent devices aren’t.” The intelligence is really in the designer. Given a certain set of sensors and controls, a designer creates a simple approximation of intelligence. Like adaptive cruise control: the car can sense how far in front the next car is, and adjust the speed of your car to maintain a constant distance. Norman told us a story of one of his friends, who was driving a car with adaptive cruise control in heavy traffic. He’d been sitting in traffic so long that he forgot the cruise control was even on. He got a bit of a shock when he pulled onto the off-ramp on the car suddenly accelerated.

The problem is that this kind of automation is based on simple sensors and simple rules, but this all breaks down in the face of unexpected events. We all know that human reasoning and decision making are extremely complicated. A person can “know” something, even think it’s obvious, but not be able to say why. So what hope do we have of being able to design decision-making machines?

Norman thinks the ideal situation is that we don’t try to make machines that think, but machines that help us think. These systems should be optional, natural, and predictable. I don’t entirely disagree with him, but I think there are definitely situations where a computer really could make a better decision than a human."    (Continued via    [Usability Resources]

Don Norman - Usability, User Interface Design

Don Norman


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