Towards a Pluralistic Epistemology: Understanding the Future of Human-Technology Interactions in Shipping
Doctoral thesis, 2019
The rapid advance of technologies is revolutionizing the way people work and transforming society into a digital world. In the shipping domain, many innovative technical systems have been designed and developed in the past decades, aiming to enable the maritime users to achieve the goal of safety, efficiency and effectiveness. The introduction of advanced technologies into workplaces that are intended to aid humans have also created unprecedented challenges. As their workplaces are inundated with new artefacts that cause confusion and information overloading, human users frequently find themselves in a supporting role to serve technology, being responsible for automation issues and blamed for “human errors” that sometimes result in tragic results. Today’s work in shipping is generally getting more distributed, complex and demanding.
These challenges are closely associated with the design and use of technologies. Human-technology interactions in the context of sociotechnical systems has become an important research topic. It explores the relation between humans and machines to illustrate how interface design could address the human limitations, shape social interactions and provide ecological implications. This thesis considers the context of the shipping domain to investigate the impact of innovative technology, design issues and opportunities in various projects that attempt to increase safety or/and efficiency. The exploration and discourse in these applied projects are positioned in sociotechnical systems which include human, technology and organisational constituents. The thesis aims to achieve a deeper understanding of human-technology interactions from psychological, sociological and ecological perspectives, reflecting the ways in which technology interacts with humans. It aims to form a pluralistic epistemology to provide design implications and enlighten knowledge and organisational management within sociotechnical systems.
The results have identified many issues related to situation awareness, attention and automation bias. It suggests the importance of adapting interfaces to the human limitations and accommodating the context change to support decision making. Perspectives of Activity Theory, distributed cognition and situated learning have high reference value in human-computer interaction research, providing insightful understanding about the nature of knowledge and interaction design, particularly how tool mediation could facilitate social interaction. In addition, technology-centric design that only concerns “user-interface” interaction is identified having significant limitations in complex systems. “Human errors” and organisational failures should be perceived via a holistic thinking. The results have presented the importance of adopting pluralistic approaches to understand the sociological factors and the nature of the work that is undergoing transitions along the shipping industry’s ecology.
Overall, the thesis has identified the need to go beyond the pure cognitivist approach to better understand the complexity of human-computer interaction and human factors research, forming a deepened understanding towards an emerging interdisciplinary language of sociotechnical systems. To truly contribute to safety, efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability, it is critical to develop a pluralistic epistemology and a comprehensive human-centric vision regarding design and technological innovation in the digital revolution.