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Man Versus Machine

Computers and automation are designed to help people. It sounds so simple. If you've ever tried to use a machine that looks easy but turns out to be complicated and confusing, however, you know that not all computers are user friendly. Why is it that many people can operate a microwave oven without difficulty, yet get a headache when setting the clock on a VCR?

Human factors is the study of how people and machines interact. Scientists and psychologists have spent years exploring this interaction, what contributes to common errors or confusion, and how these problems can be eliminated. If someone makes a mistake with the VCR and has to start over, it's a mild inconvenience. If a jet pilot becomes confused about how the flight controls operate, though, the results can be disastrous. Human factors researchers at California's NASA Ames Research Center have launched a project called the Human-Automation Integration Research (HAIR) element of their Airspace Operations Systems. They're exploring how to make automated procedures more user friendly, which will reduce stress as well as accidents. HAIR research combines cognitive science (how people learn) and computer science (how computers work) to develop better ways for computers to help people.


Fact Credit:
NASA Aerospace Technology Enterprise

Further Reading
Cyborg: The Man-Machine
by Marie O'Mahony

Related Web Links
Human-Machine Systems
by Working Life

World Perspectives
by On Technology and the Human Factor

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