Making IT easier to use

Research importance: The demands of homeland security, and disaster management in general, are moving technologies, such as geographic information systems, out of their traditional domains of expert users and into the hands of people with other specialties, requiring easier and more user-friendly ways to get information out of computer systems.

Potential benefits: Benefits could include faster access to computer-based information, better use of that information for analyses and improved collaboration among groups of people that use the information to manage crises.

Current state-of-the-art: Technologies are somewhat limited and include systems that require people to type data in using a keyboard or other physical device; icon-based displays that use shapes and colors to represent information and are often confusing to novice users; and technologies that are only minimally capable of using human communication such as voice and touch in an integrated way.

Research and development success factors: Adoption of tools by commercial vendors for use with their products is crucial because it will signal acceptance of "new" ways of working with computer systems.

Challenges: Most new approaches to the human/computer interface depend on advances in the understanding of human cognition, which is still a new science and is a long way from maturity. Also, the computer and information industries and users are wedded to the current ways of getting information out of systems, so even though new technologies are an advance toward more human-like methods, they will still need to cross an acceptance gap.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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