Into the loop

Historically, the interaction between person and machine was very simple – a person knew what they wanted to do and that they wanted to use the machine to do it, so they went and pressed a button and it happened. The interaction between these peers only went one way, from person to machine, with nothing flowing in the other direction.

Then engineers started to get a bit more broad-minded, and recognised that if the machine were given sensors it could do a slightly better job. Further, if we let the person using the machine know what was going on through display or feedback, they may be able to use the machine more effectively, and the person may have a better experience in using it. Still, the interaction between person and machine was very much a one-way street.

But if we change the paradigm so that a machine and human are interaction partners, the machine can communicate with the person in a way to get them to elicit particular behaviour. What this involves is giving the machine some faculty to influence the interaction, whether that be through a display, or voice, or maybe even gesture in the case of a robot. From this people can make a reasonable assumption that they are a part of an interaction, interpret the cues the machine is giving them, and then they can have some degree of conscious participation in the exchange.

What this does is alter the schematic of the interaction from a flow in one direction along a line (the human directing the entire interaction and making decisions) to a loop. In some circumstances, a machine may cue a human to act (say, through voice) which influences the person to do something, which affects the machine, which then issues further instructions to the person. Sometimes the machine may take over as the leader of a task. Sometimes they work together (like when the machine acts autonomously).

But how does this relate to a transport environment? It may not seem obvious, but many transport hubs –particularly train stations – are machines themselves, interacting with passengers through sensors and displays. When a customer comes into the station, they don’t know what they want to do. They don’t know what button to press, or that they’re the one that’s meant to be pressing a button. But by bringing them into the loop they can be influenced to behave in certain ways which can help them – even if they don’t consciously realise it’s happening.