What Makes Vicarious Functioning
Work? Exploring the Geometry
of Human–Technology Interaction
Asaf Degani, Michael Shafto, and Alex Kirlik
The essence of modeling lies in establishing relations between pairs of system descriptions.
—Zeigler, Praehofer, & Kim, 2000, p. 295.
In this chapter we provide a Brunswikian perspective on human interaction with everyday technologies, such as traffic lights, automotive devices (e.g., warning systems), and also advanced technologies, such as flight control systems in modern airliners. We apply this perspective toward suggesting a framework for evaluating interface designs and for ultimately improving the usability, robustness, and effectiveness of a range of interactive technologies. Today's automated systems, such as modern commercial, “glass cockpit” aircraft, afford the user various levels, or modes, of interaction, ranging from fully manual to fully automatic. These modes provide the pilot with various control strategies to achieve a given goal. In all automated control systems, including those found in cars, ships, and aircraft, the control modes are discrete, whereas the behavior of the controlled system (e.g., the aircraft) is continuous. In commercial aviation, the pilots' task of coping with the mapping between discrete mode changes and dynamic, continuous changes such as altitude, heading, and speed is challenging. Incident and accident data show a strong relationship between environmental demands (e.g., air traffic control clearances), mode-selection strategies, interface design, and operational problems (Degani, 2004).
We believe that a deeper understanding of the nature and implications of the relationships between the demands of the operational environment (e.g., air traffic control), the physical space in which performance occurs (e.g., the airspace), the technology that's employed (the automation and its interfaces), and finally human cognition are important for enhancing human interaction with the semi-automated systems of today and hopefully the autonomous systems (e.g., planetary rovers) of the future.
a.k.a. “Purposive Behavior”
“There is a variety of 'means' to each end, and this variety is changing, both variety and change being forms of vicarious functioning” (Brunswik, 1952, p. 18). In today's cognitive parlance, vicarious functioning might be glossed as flexible, goal-oriented behavior. Wolf (1999) elaborates on the central role of this type of adaptive behavior in Brunswik's work. Brunswik emphasized the adaptive relations between an organism and its environment. His analysis of the environment revealed it to be stochastic, dynamic,