The purpose of this article is to re-address the vision of human- computer symbiosis expressed by J. C. R. Licklider nearly a half century ago, when he wrote: “The hope is that in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information- handling machines we know today” (Licklider, 1960). Unfortunately, little progress was made toward this vision over 4 decades following Licklider’s challenge, despite significant advancements in the fields of human factors and computer science. Licklider’s vision was largely forgotten. However, recent advances in information science and technology, psychology, and neuroscience have rekindled the potential of making the Licklider’s vision a reality. This article provides a historical context for and updates the vision, and it argues that such a vision is needed as a unifying framework for advancing IS&T.
Licklider’s statement is breathtaking for its vision, especially considering the state of computer technology at that time, that is, large mainframes, punch cards, and batch processing. It is curious to note that Licklider did not use the term symbiosis again, but he did introduce more visionary ideas in a symbiotic vein. An article he co-authored with Robert Taylor titled The Computer As a Communication Device made the bold assertion, “In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face” (Licklider & Taylor, 1968). Clearly, the time estimate was optimistic, but the vision was noteworthy. Licklider and Taylor described the role of the computer in effective communication by introducing the concept of “On-Line Interactive Vicarious Expediter and Responder” (OLIVER), an acronym that by no coincidence was chosen to honor artificial intelligence researcher and the father of machine perception, Oliver Selfridge. OLIVER would be able to take notes when so directed, would know what you do, what you read, what you buy and where to buy it. It would know your friends and acquaintances and would know who and what is important to you. This article made heavy use of the concept of “mental models,” which was relatively new to the psychology of that day. The computer was conceived of as an active participant rather than as a passive communication device. Remember that when this article was written, computers were large devices used by specialists. The age of personal computing was off in the future.
Born during World War II, the field of human factors engineering gained prominence for its research on the placement of controls, widely known as knobology, which was an unjust characterization. Many important contributions were made to the design of aircraft, including controls and displays. With strong roots in research on human performance and human errors, the field gained prominence through the work of many leaders in the field who came out of the military: Alphonse Chapanis, a psychologist and a Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force; Alexander Williams, a psychologist and naval aviator; Air Force Colonel Paul Fitts; and J.C.R. Licklider. Beginning with Chapanis, who realized that “pilot errors” were most often cockpit design errors that could be corrected by the application of human factors to display and controls, these early educators were instrumental in launching the discipline of aviation psychology and human factors engineering that led to worldwide standards in the aviation industry. These men were influential in demonstrating that the military and aviation industry could benefit from research and expertise of the human factors academic community; their works (Fitts, 1951) were inspirational in guiding research and design in engineering psychology for decades. Among the most influential early articles in the field that came out of this academic discipline was George Miller’s (1956) “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity to Process Information,” which helped to usher in the field of cognitive science and application of more quantitative approaches to the study of cognitive activity and performance.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Joint Cognitive Systems (JCS’s): This design philosophy regards a system as a whole comprising people and technology acting together.
Neo-Symbiosis: This is an updating of Licklider’s vision in which technology is placed in a subordinate role to the human.
Human Factors: This is the field devoted to understanding and applying the properties of human capabilities to the design and development of systems with the aim of improving operational performance and safety.
Cognitive Systems Engineering: This is a design philosophy that advances a broad system design perspective employing modeling concepts from engineering, psychology, cognitive science, information science, and computer science, emphasizing human cognitive processes in system design.
Augmented Cognition: This area of research seeks methods for addressing cognitive bottlenecks (e.g., limitations in attention, memory, learning, comprehension, visualization abilities, and decision making) to extend human information management capacity via technologies that assess the user’s cognitive status in real time.
Human Centered Design: This is a design philosophy that emphasizes the needs and abilities of the user in the design of a system.
Hedonomics: This is a design philosophy that considers a hierarchy of human needs in system design.
Symbiosis: This is Licklider’s vision that in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.
Two System Theory of Cognition: Although there are a number of two system theories, this refers to Kahneman’s concept of Intuitive and Reasoning systems.