Looking Ahead: Human Factors Challenges in a Changing World

Looking Ahead: Human Factors Challenges in a Changing World

Looking Ahead: Human Factors Challenges in a Changing World

Looking Ahead: Human Factors Challenges in a Changing World


This volume aims to review some of the recent developments and trends that seem especially relevant to any attempt to understand near-term-future possibilities; to consider what a variety of knowledgeable people are saying about changes and developments that could occur; and to relate the possibilities to needs and opportunities for human factors research. Human factors, in this case, includes not only the implications of human capabilities and limitations for the design of equipment and machines intended for human use, but also applied psychology in a more general sense. In particular, it is taken to involve social systems as well as physical ones, the interaction of people with the environment as well as with machines, the facilitation of communication between people as well as between people and computers, and the design of policies and procedures as well as the design of equipment. The author's intention is to focus on anticipated problems -- including opportunities as well as difficulties -- and ask how human factors research might contribute to solutions. It is assumed that there are ways in which such research could be useful in addressing societal problems that the profession has not yet realized and that these are more likely to be recognized in the future if the community is actively seeking to identify them.


For the second time in my experience, a background paper prepared for an activity of the National Research Council's Committee on Human Factors has grown into a book. The immediate precursor to this book was a paper written for the committee's use in the planning of a report on Human Factors Research Needs, which was to be a sequel to a report on this topic issued by the committee in 1983. Involvement with the Committee on Human Factors has been immensely stimulating and rewarding, and I feel very fortunate to have been a member of it and to have participated in its activities.

As its title indicates, this is intended to be a forward-looking book. I am very interested -- as I assume most of us are -- in the question of what kind of a world we are moving toward. More particularly, as a parent and grandparent, I am concerned about some current trends and would like to understand better what can be done to increase the probability that the world we are bequeathing to future generations is one they will want to inhabit.

I believe that if one begins as a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist one will find plenty of support for that pessimism. On the other hand, I believe also that if one wants to be an optimist, one can find much support for that view as well. But we should not, I think, be easily persuaded to accept the inevitability of any particular scenario. The future is full of possibilities, some good, some bad. It will be what we make it.

The focus here is on the question of what major challenges and opportunities a world that is changing rapidly may have for the human factors profession. Or reversing the question, what does the human factors profession have to offer by way of solutions, partial solutions, or approaches to help solve problems that seem to be looming as we look ahead?

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