I recently attended the 13th Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics (AHFE) Conference in New York City. Like a busy NYC street, the topics covered were an eclectic mix of human factors solutions highlighting advances in training, performance, safety, and usability in nearly every human endeavor. The presentations I saw at AHFE emphasized that human factors has embraced new technologies as tools for investigation and as objects of study. Here are just some of the interesting things at AHFE 2022:
Like the massive screens in Times Square, the above items were certainly attention-grabbing and my first reaction to much of what I saw was “cool.” Then, questions began to go through my mind as I started to think about what’s beyond this first impression. Is the alphabet instructional game enjoyable and thus motivating children to stay engaged? Is it intended to supplement parent-child interaction? Or replace it? The AR laser-based project system may improve productivity, but does it improve safety? Do the workers understand the system and enjoy using it? Are autopsies currently being done poorly and, if so...how? You get the idea.
The AHFE keynote address by Dr. Michael van Lent, President and CEO of Soar Technology, discussed the 4th Industrial Revolution. This revolution is brought about by a combination of technologies that afford the opportunity to blur the lines between the physical, digital, and biological, allowing new information, products, and services to emerge. This led me to think about technology's intended and unintended uses and how humans are changed simply because of their interactions with technology. Often, we focus on the obvious, albeit “cool”, intended use without considering secondary and even tertiary human-centered benefits and consequences. For instance, I hope that a children’s game for teaching the alphabet is motivational and effective while also promoting rich social interaction among parents and children.
As human factors researchers, we should consider how to measure the unintended benefits and how humans are changed because of technology interaction. For example, how does adaptive lighting in automobiles influence not only driver emotions but also driver focus and reaction time? While no single study can examine every effect, intended or unintended, our methods and measures must be expanded to account for the ever-increasing complexity of human systems interaction. What are the types of questions you ask when you see new tech or research? Are you able to move beyond the cool?
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These posts are written or shared by QIC team members. We find this stuff interesting, exciting, and totally awesome! We hope you do too!