Designer ‘error’ often creates the conditions or precursors for those operator errors.
HCI has long been interested in techniques that reduce the likelihood of human error in the design and implementation of complex systems. For instance, TC.13 has had a strong influence on the psychology of programming through successive sessions at the INTERACT conference. This lead has been taken up, more recently, by key researchers within systems and software engineering. For example, Nancy Leveson has developed a range of design techniques that are intended to reduce the likelihood of error during the specification and certification of complex systems. She has also analysed the ways in which present development practices might cause subsequent problems for the users of safety-critical systems.
There are a number of lesser reasons why the field of HCI ought to offer more direct support to the development and operation of safety-critical, interactive systems. Not the least of these is that both governmental and commercial organisations are appealing to research institutions to provide advice and guidance in this area. With successive accidents being blamed on ‘operator error’, they are being urged by public pressure to treat these topics seriously. As a result there are numerous national initiatives in this area but little international integration. This creates considerable problems for the dissemination of research results and for the coordination of research activities. Further problems arise because many initiatives relate to specific industries. The findings of research into nuclear safety rarely reach interface designers within major aircraft manufacturers. This is significant because many interaction problems cross these industry divisions. All of these problems could be addressed by the formation of an international Working Group under the auspices of IFIP (WG13.5).
This proposal is supported by a series of workshops that Nancy Leveson (MIT) and Chris Johnson (University of Glasgow), Veronique de Keyser (Liege) and Philippe Palanque (Univ. of Toulouse) have run over the last four years. The first was held in Glasgow in March 1997. The procedings have been developed into two special editions of Elsevier’s Interacting with Computers. Attendance was limited to 50 participants but the meeting was considerably over-subscribed. We had delegates from eight countries and from companies (Boeing, Daimler-Benz, GEC-Marconi), regulatory authorities (the US Federal Aviation Authority, Eurocontrol, UK Health and Safety Executive) and academic institutions (Bielefeld, Eindhoven, Stockholm, Toulouse, Washington, York).
The second of these workshops was held in Seattle, USA, 1-2 April 1998 and was jointly hosted by Battelle Research and the University of Washington. The programme committee for this meeting forms the list of suggested members for WG13.5. Over sixty participants from eight countries participated; just under half were from commercial or regulatory organisations. Keynote speakers included Earl Weener, Head of Safety Engineering at Boeing and Nadine Sarter, University of Illinois. Papers addressed topics ranging from revised safety management techniques in Ontario Hydro to cognitive complexity of pilot-autopilot interaction in the Boeing 737-EFIS. Other papers addressed more theoretical issues concerned with task prioritisation errors and strategic planning in safety-critical interaction.