Thursday, September 21, 2006


What does it mean for something to be "intuitive?"

It must have something to do with our intuition. Ok... so what's "intuition?" I like to define it as previous knowledge (loosely defined), either instinctive or gained through learning. Thus, something that is intuitive is something that takes advantage of previous knowledge. A key point here is that intuitiveness is subjective.

If you have played poker games in the past, the rules of a new poker game will be intuitive if they rely on knowledge gained from other poker games. If you have used Microsoft products in the past, new Microsoft products will be intuitive as long as they are designed like the old ones. If you have driven a car in the past, driving a new car should be easy. (Driving may not be very intuitive at first since we don't otherwise press levers to change velocity and turn a wheel to change directions... except in video games.) In all of these cases standards are important since they ensure that previous knowledge is exploited.

This thought process started a year and a half ago in a class assignment for "Interaction Methods for Emerging Technologies." The assignment was to explain why direct manipulation devices are usually preferred by users. (Direct manipulation devices are those in which the user's actions directly affect the end object, as opposed to devices that add one or more levels of indirect manipulation. For example, a computer mouse has one level of indirect manipulation since it indirectly controls the pointer on the screen.) This was my answer:
Why are direct-manipulation interfaces preferred?

I will use the phrase "knowledge transfer" to refer to the amount of previous knowledge that can be applied to a new domain. Direct-manipulation exploits a lot of knowledge transfer because user's manipulate the device in a similar way to how they manipulate everyday objects. Direct-manipulation usually requires little learning, thus less effort and/or frustration when using a new device.

Additionally, I would say that intuitiveness in any domain is directly proportional to the amount of knowledge transfer being used, maybe going so far as to say intuitiveness is equivalent to the utilization of knowledge transfer. So things can be intuitive to some people and not others depending on their experience. Direct-manipulation is more intuitive to almost everyone because almost everyone has had a lot of experience manipulating everyday objects. A new Microsoft product, on the other hand, would be intuitive for people experienced with Microsoft products because of the knowledge transfer involved, but not for others who aren't used to them (hence the effectiveness of interface standardization).

Monday, February 28, 2005

Monday, September 18, 2006

ASME IDETC & CIE Conference 2006

I presented a paper on Verve at the 2006 ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineering) IDETC & CIE conference (International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering... whew). The official reference is the following:

Streeter, T., Oliver, J., & Sannier, A. 2006. A General Purpose Open Source Reinforcement Learning Toolkit. In Proceedings of the ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference.
The presentation went pretty well. I was put in a strange topic area, though (Knowledge Management in Design Automation). I think the audience liked the live demos, and I had some good questions from them afterwards. The paper and presentation slides are available in the publications section of my website.

I attended a talk called "The Spirituality of Engineering" by two professors from Delft University in the Netherlands. They showed a video of a grad student from Russia doing a 6 month research internship in Paris (developing a control algorithm for the inverted pendulum problem). Then the speakers and the audience talked about various types of symbolism present in the film.

I also went to two industry/government panel discussions: "Challenges Confronting Mechanical Systems with Emphasis on Intelligence," and "Industry & Government Perspective on Issues and Challenges for Robotics." James Albus gave a presentation at the first one called "Building Brains for Thinking Machines," which was a brief summary of his work on hierarchical control systems. I talked with Dr. Albus briefly before his talk about some of his books (Intelligent Systems and Engineering of Mind).

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Now Listening to... lectures from another Gerald Schneider course, "Animal Behavior," on MIT OpenCourseWare.

I'm really enjoying taking courses on my own schedule. I just fit an entire course (Neuroscience and Behavior) into two weeks. (Actually I only listened to 16 out of the 30 audio lectures available, but they covered the topics I cared about.) It's great because I usually get bored with normal courses by the end of the semester. I have a pretty good feel for when I'm in a learning mood, and it usually doesn't coincide with scheduled lecture times. Now I can just keep my iPod with me all the time and listen to a chunk of a lecture while I'm riding the bus, exercising, or waiting for software to compile. I don't think I could go back to the old way. I'm done with old school school.