What do Army engineers THINK about human-computer interaction and decision making?

It is day three at the 2010 Army Science Conference. This morning’s opening session and topical panel were devoted to the brain: behavioral decision making, human-computer interaction and neuroscience. Joining us to discuss his organization’s cognitive research efforts is Dan O’Neill, a computer scientist with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s communications-electronics center (CERDEC). Dan works in the CERDEC Command & Control Directorate (C2D), where he is the technical lead for the Tactical Human Integration of Networked Knowledge (THINK) Army Technology Objective (ATO).

All of us have experienced degrees of anxiety, if not degrees of panic, as we struggle to perform complex or detailed tasks under pressure and deadline: the last-minute income tax return, the white-knuckle drive to catch an early morning flight, or having to brief someone else’s project to higher-ups on short notice. How could those stressful times be made easier? Would clearer instructions help the tax filer? Would better planning help the traveler get to the airport on time? Would a concise summary of what’s really important enable you to better brief slides you didn’t create?

Army commanders face analogous challenges, albeit the issues they encounter are much more serious, and the stress is much more pronounced. They must quickly analyze overwhelming amounts of incomplete data and make decisions that will have immediate impact on mission success; generally this must be done in hostile environments, where creature comforts and sleep are minimal, with complex equipment and systems that sometimes don’t interoperate, and with a network infrastructure that needs to be more robust.

One of our research efforts to address these challenges is the THINK ATO, where we have set up a cognitive research and prototyping/simulation/experimentation capability to help us investigate how best to bring “networked knowledge” to the commander. We’re conducting overlapping cognitive science, social science and computer science research in an attempt to develop technologies that will augment a commander’s ability to develop situational awareness and make decisions in complex, dynamic environments that are “less than ideal” for a network.

Within the constraints of the physical network (e.g., limited bandwidth and stove-piped applications), THINK is developing solutions to find and present information within the warfighting network that can be leveraged to help facilitate collaboration, build deeper understanding of problems, and assist in the decision-making process. Given the stressful environment and the challenging network infrastructure in which our soldiers typically operate, THINK is developing tools to find useful information in the social/knowledge network and to filter and process and present it to commanders most effectively.

U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, located at Fort Monmouth, N.J.What are some of these tools? We’re developing ways to analyze discourse (speech, chat, e-mail, etc.) to identify people and information in the warfighting network that are relevant to the commander’s current situation. We’re developing methods to examine the warfighter social network (through analysis of those communications) to find strengths and vulnerabilities, and to help identify emergent leaders, underutilized expertise, inefficiencies, and so on. We’re working on tools to measure the understanding of the commander’s intent throughout the network.  And we’re developing associate software that runs in parallel with battle command systems, supplying useful contextual information, alerts, and decision support assistance to commanders.

To do this, we’re working closely with program offices, laboratories, and Soldiers to develop quickly deployable solutions that address some of these limitations. That said, we’re interested in how we can leverage the network science research being presented during the Army Science Conference and would be open to feedback or recommendations for unanswered questions:

Can we manipulate a commander’s contextual framework dynamically – without re-designing existing systems?  Are there guidelines that can be used to influence new designs, or can we make existing systems better without recoding or reengineering them? Can we address some of these problems via better training? If so, how useful would/could traditional social network and cognitive science measures and metrics be to a commander?  Ultimately, are there important aspects of this problem space that haven’t been mentioned?

If you have thoughts or potential collaboration opportunities, we’d love to hear them.  Until then, the floor is yours.

For more information regarding THINK, contact CERDEC public affairs: (732) 427-1594. Click these links to learn more about the Army’s advancements in C4ISR technologies and behavioral sciences & human performance during the 2010 Army Science Conference.

Sign up for Armed with Science email alerts!

This entry was posted in Life Sciences, Technology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What do Army engineers THINK about human-computer interaction and decision making?

  1. Zana says:

    Hello everyone! I found four amazing books which covers topics about Human computer interaction, such us modeling and practical realization of robotic control for different applications, researching of the problems of stability and robustness, automation in algorithm and program developments with application in speech signal processing and linguistic research, systems applied control, computations, and control theory application in mechanics and electronics. You can download all them for free here: or just read specifics chapters and field in online reading platform like I do, which is on the same link. Great isn’t it? Cheers!

  2. NMTC Updates says:

    Developing quickly deployable solutions needs to account for Gen-X and Gen-Y modality of thinking. I trust that you are testing and developing ideas with this in mind. We have a few companies that work with testing based on a social-cognitive framework. How can we find out more about your efforts and be a part of this critical initiative.

    Karl Cureton
    National Minority Technology Council

    • Dan O'Neill says:

      Hi Karl – We are fortunate to have several talented Gen-X and Gen-Y folks on our technical team, and their input is critical to THINK and to other efforts at CERDEC. In our development and testing, we do need to constantly focus on the user (the young soldier) and understand that user’s background and biases – while keeping in mind that operational policies and procedures will always remain important. Looking forward to talking to you soon. Thanks for the great input! Dan O