>Man to Machine–How Far Will It Go?

>

This is an amazing video of the new FemBots from Japan. These robots are incredibly lifelike for nascent androids. With or without the background music, it evokes an eerie feeling.

The vision of iRobot and elements of Star-Trek (remember the character “Data”) are becoming a reality in front of our very eyes.
This is a convergence of humanity and technology, as scary as that sounds. (No not our hearts and souls, but definitely recognizable physical dimensions).

No longer are we talking about simple human-computer interfaces, computer ergonomics, or user-centric architecture design, but rather, we are now moving toward the actual technology with emerging human semblance, charateristics, even some notional speech and affect, etc.

I came across this video the same day today that I saw on FOX news a breakthrough in robotic limbs for people. A man had actually been fitted and was using a robotic hand that responded to his muscle movement. Obviously, this offers huge possibilities for people with disabilities.

Man to machine and machine to man. How far will it go?

>IT Leaders–In Service to User Diversity

>A colleague sent me this article about “Electronically Challenged Seniors” with the comment “I think this sums up my abilities to a “T”.” While in her case, she was grossly exaggerating–she is a highly intelligent, technologically proficient, and experienced professional–I though this was a fascinating commentary on how IT leaders need to take into consideration a wide variety of end-users when planning and rolling out new information technology.

For example, too often we treat IT training as a after-thought, communications with our users as a sidetrack from the “cool technology” itself, and the rollout and adoption of technology in our organizations as “you’ll take what we give you, when we give it to you, and you’ll like it!”

Certainly, generational differences have long been acknowledged in terms of IT awareness, understanding, desire, usage, and expectation. Those generations who grew up with the computer, PDAs, internet, social media and so on and so forth are not only versatile in them, but expect basically the “latest and greatest” to be available to them at work. While prior generations who did not grow up with these modern technologies, although fully capable of learning and using them, may not intuitively understand them or feel the same level of desire to adopt them.

As IT leaders, we need to work with people from many generations and walks of life–with various levels of breadth and depth of technical prowess, desire, and expectation, and we need to serve them all by understanding their particular IT requirements, service levels, and training needs, and tailoring our approach to servicing them to help each group–based on user segmentation–to be as productive, engaged, and comfortable as possible.

Of course, we can’t make everyone happy all the time, but perhaps, we can work ever harder to be more understanding, empathetic, and helpful to our variety of users–“challenged” or otherwise.

>Man-Machine Interface and Enterprise Architecture

>

A critical component of User-centric Enterprise Architecture is designing technology solutions to meet end-user requirements, and this includes making the man-machine interface simple and user-friendly. Often, this is referred to as ergonomics, defined as “the applied science of equipment design intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue, safety and discomfort. “ (www.spyderco.com/edge-u-cation/glossary.php)

According to Federal Computer Week, 4 August 2008, “Air Force researchers aim to help pilots and others operate increasingly complex aircraft and mission support systems.”

Unfortunately, all too often, the man-machine interface is not dealt with up front. “Traditionally, the machine and the technology are designed first and then the pilot has to deal with what’s left over, usually through training,” says Maris Vikmanis of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Not designing in ergonomics from the get-go is a failure to consider the human capital perspective of enterprise architecture and will result in technology solutions that are sub-optimal to the end users and to the performance of the mission.

Dan Goodard, chief of the directorate’s Warfighter Interface Division, states, “There’s now so much reconnaissance data flowing down into the AOC (Air Operations Center) that it’s information overload. You need a much better human-machine interface to be able to get actionable information out of this very quickly.

One example of enhancing man-machine interface is “deciding the best interface for people to use with onscreen data. A regular mouse turns out not to be so good for this; it would be better if someone could actually reach into the data to interact with it, which means devising more tangible interfaces.” (Remember the movie Minority Report…) I do not know if this type of 3-D data interface even has a name yet, but I would call it something like virtual data manipulation (VDM).

Another example goes beyond the senses of sight and touch to that of hearing. “Sound perception can play an equally important role in combat scenarios. On the battlefield, people often pick up aural cues about what’s happening before they see it. Developing technology that can take advantage of that is the goal of Battlespace Acoustics Branch of the Warfighter Interface Division.”

We’ve got to change from the “build it and they will come” mindset of the failed dot.com era to a more User-centric EA approach that demands that we design IT with the end-user in mind.

As Goodard summed up, “there’s been a lack of awareness about the importance of the man-machine interface in the early designs of weapons systems.” It’s certainly time to change that and not only for military and law enforcement systems, but for IT across the board.