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Scouting the Future

I joined Barrett Caldwell’s Scout the Future program. The idea is to heighten our sense of awareness of emerging systems, environments, technologies, and social movements and how human factors can be applied to them.

Through the program, HFES members who are involved in cutting-edge technologies, have particularly broad connections in diverse research and engineering domains, and who can spot a trend before it hits the mainstream can share that information with the Executive Council.

Can human factors help these trends evolve to better meet the needs of the population? Can human factors be used to focus design processes on human interaction and performance? These are more likely if we can identify trends early and get in on the ground floor. And the only way we can guide the development of new interaction paradigms that Thomas Wendt describes here. Many practitioners of human factors often grumble about our lack of impact with new innovations and societal trends. Barrett deserves a lot of credit for taking steps to do something about it.

My Take

One of the areas I am personally interested in is ubiquitous computing. As technology disappears into the background, new human factors issues will emerge. Lack of an interface will make it hard to know what our systems are doing or why. Human-system trust issues will get exponentially more complicated but also more critical. Take the mythical smart fridge that Dallas Sargent recently speculated about in UX Mag. His use case is to prevent wasting fresh vegetables, time, and money through some smart, real time, customized notifications. I am one of the evangelists who hates waste so this idea resonates with me. But I can imagine many user experience challenges that we haven’t figured out yet.

One baby step in this direction is the Nest thermostat. It monitors how we adjust the temperature in our homes and learns patterns after just a few days. If we usually raise the temperature at particular times or triggered by certain events, Nest will figure this out and start doing it automatically. You can imagine a day when we won’t need the thermostat interface at all. What I am waiting for is for it to know when I am going to wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and can start warming the room up in advance. You think this is crazy? Check out the smart bandage or the medical tattoos being developed by my colleague at Bentley (yes, I had to get a plug in) Christopher Skipwith.

Your Turn

What do you see emerging in the future that human factors should get involved in early? It would be great if you would share some of your ideas here so we can discuss some pros and cons and how we can help. Or share them with the Scout the Future team at #ScoutFutureHFES.

Image credit: Mcginnly

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