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Computers & Human Interaction

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Attention in the Age of Embodied Information

The world is filling with ever more kinds of media, in ever more contexts and formats. Glowing rectangles have become part of the scene; screens, large and small, appear everywhere. Physical locations are increasingly tagged and digitally augmented. Sensors, processors, and memory are not found only in chic smart phones but also built into everyday objects. Amid this flood, your attention practices matter more than ever. You might not be able to tune this world out. So it is worth remembering that underneath all these augmentations and data flows, fixed forms persist, and that to notice them can improve other sensibilities. In Ambient Commons, Malcolm McCullough explores the workings of attention though a rediscovery of surroundings.

Not all that informs has been written and sent; not all attention involves deliberate thought. The intrinsic structure of space—the layout of a studio, for example, or a plaza—becomes part of any mental engagement with it. McCullough describes what he calls the Ambient: an increasing tendency to perceive information superabundance whole, where individual signals matter less and at least some mediation assumes inhabitable form. He explores how the fixed forms of architecture and the city play a cognitive role in the flow of ambient information. As a persistently inhabited world, can the Ambient be understood as a shared cultural resource, to be socially curated, voluntarily limited, and self-governed as if a commons? Ambient Commons invites you to look past current obsessions with smart phones to rethink attention itself, to care for more situated, often inescapable forms of information.

Art and Culture Emerging with Ubiquitous Computing
Edited by Ulrik Ekman

Ubiquitous computing and our cultural life promise to become completely interwoven: technical currents feed into our screen culture of digital television, video, home computers, movies, and high-resolution advertising displays. Technology has become at once larger and smaller, mobile and ambient. In Throughout, leading writers on new media--including Jay David Bolter, Mark Hansen, N. Katherine Hayles, and Lev Manovich--take on the crucial challenges that ubiquitous and pervasive computing pose for cultural theory and criticism.

The thirty-foure contributing researchers consider the visual sense and sensations of living with a ubicomp culture; electronic sounds from the uncanny to the unremarkable; the effects of ubicomp on communication, including mobility, transmateriality, and infinite availability; general trends and concrete specificities of interaction designs; the affectivity in ubicomp experiences, including performances; context awareness; and claims on the “real” in the use of such terms as “augmented reality” and “mixed reality.”

Insight through Inquiry

Interactive visualization is emerging as a vibrant new form of communication, providing compelling presentations that allow viewers to interact directly with information in order to construct their own understandings of it. Building on a long tradition of print-based information visualization, interactive visualization utilizes the technological capabilities of computers, the Internet, and computer graphics to marshal multifaceted information in the service of making a point visually. This book offers an introduction to the field, presenting a framework for exploring historical, theoretical, and practical issues. It is not a “how-to” book tied to specific and soon-to-be-outdated software tools, but a guide to the concepts that are central to building interactive visualization projects whatever their ultimate form.

The framework the book presents (known as the ASSERT model, developed by the author), allows the reader to explore the process of interactive visualization in terms of choosing good questions to ask; finding appropriate data for answering them; structuring that information; exploring and analyzing the data; representing the data visually; and telling a story using the data. Interactive visualization draws on many disciplines to inform the final representation, and the book reflects this, covering basic principles of inquiry, data structuring, information design, statistics, cognitive theory, usability, working with spreadsheets, the Internet, and storytelling.

The mobile device is changing the ways we interact with each other and with the world. The mobile experience is distinct from the desktop or laptop experience; mobile apps require a significantly different design philosophy as well as design methods that reflect the unique experience of computing in the world. This book presents an approach to designing mobile media that takes advantage of the Internet-connected, context-aware, and media-sharing capabilities of mobile devices. It introduces tools that can be used at every stage of building a mobile application, from concept creation to commercialization, as well as real-world examples from industry and academia.

The methods outlined apply user-centered design processes to mobile devices in a way that makes these methods relevant to the mobile experience--which involves the use of systems in the complex spatial and social world rather than at a desk. The book shows how each project begins with generative research into the practices and desires of a diverse set of potential users, which grounds research and design in the real world. It then describes methods for rapid prototyping, usability evaluation, field testing, and scaling up solutions in order to bring a product to market. Building Mobile Experiences grew out of an MIT course in communicating with mobile technology; it is appropriate for classroom use and as a reference for mobile app designers.

In Adversarial Design, Carl DiSalvo examines the ways that technology design can provoke and engage the political. He describes a practice, which he terms “adversarial design,” that uses the means and forms of design to challenge beliefs, values, and what is taken to be fact. It is not simply applying design to politics--attempting to improve governance, for example, by redesigning ballots and polling places; it is implicitly contestational and strives to question conventional approaches to political issues.

DiSalvo explores the political qualities and potentials of design by examining a series of projects that span design and art, engineering and computer science, agitprop and consumer products. He views these projects-- which include computational visualizations of networks of power and influence, therapy robots that shape sociability, and everyday objects embedded with microchips that enable users to circumvent surveillance--through the lens of agonism, a political theory that emphasizes contention as foundational to democracy. Each of these projects engages one of three categories as a medium--information, robots, and ubiquitous computing--and in each of them certain distinctive qualities of computation are used for political ends or to bring forth political issues. DiSalvo’s illuminating analysis aims to provide design criticism with a new approach for thinking about the relationship between forms of political expression, computation as a medium, and the processes and products of design.

Evidence-Based Social Design

Online communities are among the most popular destinations on the Internet, but not all online communities are equally successful. For every flourishing Facebook, there is a moribund Friendster--not to mention the scores of smaller social networking sites that never attracted enough members to be viable. This book offers lessons from theory and empirical research in the social sciences that can help improve the design of online communities. The social sciences can tell us much about how to make online communities thrive, offering theories of individual motivation and human behavior that, properly interpreted, can inform particular design choices for online communities.
The authors draw on the literature in psychology, economics, and other social sciences, as well as their own research, translating general findings into useful design claims. They explain, for example, how to encourage information contributions based on the theory of public goods, and how to build members’ commitment based on theories of interpersonal bond formation. For each design claim, they offer supporting evidence from theory, experiments, or observational studies.
The book focuses on five high-level design challenges: starting a new community, attracting new members, encouraging commitment, encouraging contribution, and regulating misbehavior and conflict. By organizing their presentation around these fundamental design features, the authors encourage practitioners to consider alternatives rather than simply adapting a feature seen on other sites.

An Ecological Approach to Information Behavior

Human information interaction (HII) is an emerging area of study that investigates how people interact with information; its subfield human information behavior (HIB) is a flourishing, active discipline. Yet despite their obvious relevance to the design of information systems, these research areas have had almost no impact on systems design. One issue may be the contextual complexity of human interaction with information; another may be the difficulty in translating real-life and unstructured HII complexity into formal, linear structures necessary for systems design. In this book, Raya Fidel proposes a research approach that bridges the study of human information interaction and the design of information systems: cognitive work analysis (CWA). Developed by Jens Rasmussen and his colleagues, CWA embraces complexity and provides a conceptual framework and analytical tools that can harness it to create design requirements. CWA offers an ecological approach to design, analyzing the forces in the environment that shape human interaction with information.

Fidel reviews research in HIB, focusing on its contribution to systems design, and then presents the CWA framework. She shows that CWA, with its ecological approach, can be used to overcome design challenges and lead to the development of effective systems. Researchers and designers who use CWA can increase the diversity of their analytical tools, providing them with an alternative approach when they plan research and design projects. The CWA framework enables a collaboration between design and HII that can create information systems tailored to fit human lives.

Building Computers That Understand Speech

Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey famously featured HAL, a computer with the ability to hold lengthy conversations with his fellow space travelers. More than forty years later, we have advanced computer technology that Kubrick never imagined, but we do not have computers that talk and understand speech as HAL did. Is it a failure of our technology that we have not gotten much further than an automated voice that tells us to “say or press 1”? Or is there something fundamental in human language and speech that we do not yet understand deeply enough to be able to replicate in a computer? In The Voice in the Machine, Roberto Pieraccini examines six decades of work in science and technology to develop computers that can interact with humans using speech and the industry that has arisen around the quest for these technologies. He shows that although the computers today that understand speech may not have HAL’s capacity for conversation, they have capabilities that make them usable in many applications today and are on a fast track of improvement and innovation.

Pieraccini describes the evolution of speech recognition and speech understanding processes from waveform methods to artificial intelligence approaches to statistical learning and modeling of human speech based on a rigorous mathematical model--specifically, Hidden Markov Models (HMM). He details the development of dialog systems, the ability to produce speech, and the process of bringing talking machines to the market. Finally, he asks a question that only the future can answer: will we end up with HAL-like computers or something completely unexpected?

Information Technology for Environmental Sustainability

Environmental issues often span long periods of time, far-flung areas, and labyrinthine layers of complexity. In Greening through IT, Bill Tomlinson investigates how the tools and techniques of information technology (IT) can help us tackle environmental problems at such vast scales. Tomlinson describes theoretical, technological, and social aspects of a growing interdisciplinary approach to sustainability, “Green IT,” offering both a human-centered framework for understanding Green IT systems and specific examples and case studies of Green IT in action.

Tomlinson descrobes many efforts toward sustainability supported by IT--from fishers in India who maximized the sales potential of their catch by coordinating their activities with mobile phones to the installation of smart meters that optimize electricity use in California households--and offers three detailed studies of specific research projects that he and his colleagues have undertaken: EcoRaft, an interactive museum exhibit to help children learn principles of restoration ecology; Trackulous, a set of web-based tools with which people can chart their own environmental behavior; and GreenScanner, an online system that provides access to environmental-impact reports about consumer products. Taken together, these examples illustrate the significant environmental benefits that innovations in information technology can enable.

Rise of the Networked Generation

Hello Avatar! Or, {llSay(0, "Hello, Avatar!"); is a tiny piece of user-friendly code that allows us to program our virtual selves. In Hello Avatar, B. Coleman examines a crucial aspect of our cultural shift from analog to digital: the continuum between online and off-, what she calls the “x-reality” that crosses between the virtual and the real. She looks at the emergence of a world that is neither virtual nor real but encompasses a multiplicity of network combinations. And she argues that it is the role of the avatar to help us express our new agency--our new power to customize our networked life.
By avatar, Coleman means not just the animated figures that populate our screens but the gestalt of images, text, and multimedia that make up our online identities--in virtual worlds like Second Life and in the form of email, video chat, and other digital artifacts. Exploring such network activities as embodiment, extreme (virtual) violence, and the work in virtual reality labs, and offering sidebar interviews with designers and practitioners, she argues that what is new is real-time collaboration and copresence, the way we make connections using networked media and the cultures we have created around this. The star of this drama of expanded horizons is the networked subject--all of us who represent aspects of ourselves and our work across the mediascape.

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