1.11 People and Machines

People and machines deals with the interaction between information technology and people. Examples of this include new technologies that cause unemployment, and issues relating to user interfaces.

Software reliability

Computer Reliability Exercise 2

Research the following incidents. In each case, to what extent can the system software be blamed for causing the problem? What do these accidents tell us about the issue of software reliability?
  • Accidents involving the Airbus A320 aircraft, including Air Inter Flight ITF148 to Strasbourg in 1992 and Lufthansa Flight 2904 to Warsaw in 1993.
  • The accidental shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes in 1988.

Updated: 2014-10-02
User interfaces lesson plan

User interface practical lesson plans

These lessons are designed to help students understand the difference between graphical user interfaces, command line interfaces, and menu-driven interfaces, and where each might be used.
  • Command Line Interface lesson and associated files. This practical exercise gives students a chance to use the command line to manipulate a set of files, including moving and deleting files and using wildcards.  The lesson includes a command line help sheet for the most common commands. This version of the lesson uses the Microsoft Windows command line.
  • Menu Driven Interfaces lesson In this practical lesson students will create a prototype menu driven interface for three scenarios, using the button and macro functions in Microsoft Excel.
  • User interfaces summary This sheet gives students a chance to reflect on what they have learnt about each type of user interface in different areas, including ease of use and flexibility.
Beyond the GUI discusses the possible impacts of future 'conversational' user interfaces that use speech as both input and output mediums. Finally, BBC Bitesize has some good notes on the different types of user interfaces which can be helpful for revision, and The Cambridge lab where they test how elderly people use technology (BBC) highlights how difficult it can be to design easy to use technology.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Accessibility technology

Human-Computer Interaction

In the Metro Tragedy, Man Meets Machine is an interesting article from the Washington Post which describes the problems of human-computer interactions in potentially dangerous situations, tying in to the People and Machines social / ethical issue in ITGS. It ties in nicely with the resources on computer reliability and the user interfaces lesson plans above.

Human-Computer Relationships And System Safety discusses this possible over-reliance on computer systems in more detail.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Computer-controlled prosthetic devices

Computer-controlled prosthetic devices

Computer-controlled prosthetic devices have made huge leaps in recent years, with lighter weight devices that can be controlled by the user's feet, electrical impulses from nerve endings, and even the mind.

Perhaps the most famous development is the "Luke Arm", created by Dean Kamen for DARPA.  (This video from 60 Minutes and this Technology Review article give a good sense of the wonder of this device).

There have also been developments in robotic legs for amputees and stroke patients (BBC) and more recently, the FDA even approved a computerised eye implant that can partially restore sight to blind people.

Learning to Accept, and Master, a $110,000 Mechanical Arm (NY Times) gives a detailed insight into what it is like learning to live with a 'robotic' arm.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Ergonomics and RSI

Physical considerations: Ergonomics and RSI

Why is sitting in a chair for long periods bad for your back? (HowStuffWorks) and Mobile working propels RSI to "record high" (PCPro) both explain some of the health impacts and injuries that can be caused by poor ergnomics. Evidence on RSI 'urgently needed' (BBC) has statistics that reveal the extent of the impacts.

Call to protect workers from RSI (BBC) has some advice about preventing overuse injuries. A relatively new idea is standing desks, which some people claim are more ergonomic than sitting desks and can reduce health impacts.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Future Warrior technology

Military use of IT: Future Warriors

Battlefields are common testing grounds for new technological developments. The article The Army's New Land Warrior Gear: Why Soldiers Don't Like It (Popular Mechanics) covers developments in future warrior technology and talks about two of the key problems it faces: reliability and ergonomics. If successful, the trial would network soldiers and other assets together to form a battlefield visualisation for commanders.

Exoskeletons and 'Iron Man' armour are two more exciting military technologies on the verge of going mainstream.
Updated: 2014-11-07