Automation: Danger or Opportunity? Designing and Assessing Automation for Interactive Systems

This course will take place at CHI 2017 in Denver on May 11th, 2017 in room 108.
You can register to the course here

This course is tightly connected to the past year's Special Interest Group on "Multiple Views on Safety-Critical Automation".


This course takes a practical approach to introduce the principles, methods and tools in task modelling and how this technique can support identification of automation opportunities, dangers and limitations. A technical interactive hands-on exercise of how to "do it right", such as: How to go from task analysis to task models? How to identify tasks that are good candidate for automation (through analysis and simulation)? How to identify reliability and usability dangers added by automation? How to design usable automations at system, application and interaction levels?


While early approaches in automation were focusing on allocating tasks to the best player (e.g. Fitts’ approach Machine Are Better At – Men Are Better At), this courses focuses on operators’ tasks and their analysis in order to identify tasks that are good candidate for automation. Current push in automation is towards fully autonomous systems (such as google car or other autonomous vehicles) raising critical issues such as: how to ensure dependability of fully autonomous systems, how to make it possible to users to foresee future states of the automation, how to disengage automation and how to address legal issues raised by safety concerns, among many other ones. This course takes a practical approach to introduce attendees to the principles, methods and tools in design and assessment of automation.

Contribution and benefit

This course intend to provide newcomers with a background in task modeling. It provides an overview on how the recent advances in task description techniques can be exploited to design and assess interactive systems. Beyond this classical use of task models, they can be fruitfully exploited for identifying tasks (or sub tasks) that are good candidate for automation. Indeed, tasks models (when integrating enough details such as cognitive activities, knowledge required for the performance of the tasks, quantity of information to be stored in user’s short term memory, …) can be analyzing to assess the complexity of the tasks but also to compute the average performance of the users. To this end, this course provides attendees with a pragmatic toolset, including techniques, guidelines and the HAMSTERS task modeling tool that can be directly applied in practice. The tool will be distributed to attendees together with several examples going from toy examples to industrial projects. That tool can be used to describe how tasks are impacted when functions are migrated towards automation and how such migration increases the overall performance of the couple (user, interactive system).


On completion of this tutorial, attendees will:

  • - Know the theories and principle underlying automation designs in interactive systems,
  • - Be familiar with multiples policies for automations,
  • - Be knowledgeable about current use of automation in command and control systems, such as aircraft cockpits, Air traffic control workstation and autonomous vehicles,
  • - Be aware of hazards related to the introduction of automation,
  • - Be knowledgeable about design principles for usuable, reliable are performant automations,
  • - Know the benefits of using task modeling techniques to design, structure and assess user interfaces,
  • - Be able to describe users’ activities in a systematic and structured way,
  • - Have experience in analyzing an interactive systems focusing on the tasks users have to perform with it.

Description and content

This is a one unit course composed of three parts:

Part 1: the basic principles of automation and the various levels of automations, that will describe:

  • - What task models are good for (recording the output of task analysis, performance evaluation of users, tasks complexity assessment...),
  • - Basic principles of task models (hierarchical view on human activities, abstraction and refinement, temporal ordering, objects, information and knowledge … ),
  • - How to reason on tasks descriptions for identifying functions that can be allocated to automation.

Part 2:: practical issues and case studies

  • - Automation design (identification of users’ activities that could be good candidates for task migration towards automation, authority sharing, impact of automation degradation on tasks performance),
  • - Presentation of case studies from the safety critical domains such as interactive cockpits of large aircrafts, air traffic control workstation, space systems (such as the International Space Station). Closer to CHI concerns, this part will also present cases of automation within interaction techniques (such as mouse acceleration, animations),
  • - The fallacy that automation reduces human errors.

Part 3:: interactive hands-on exercise

  • - How to identify tasks that are good candidates for automation?
  • - How to design transparent (and thus usable interactions),
  • - How automation can be related to presentation techniques and not only computational means,
  • - How to address conflicts between automation and keeping the human in the loop.


Philippe Palanque
is Professor in Computer Science at University of Toulouse 3. He has been teaching HCI and task engineering classes for 20 years and is head of the Interactive Critical Systems group at the Institut de Recherche en Informatique de Toulouse (IRIT) in France. Since the late 80s he has been working on the development and application of formal description techniques for interactive system. He has worked on research projects to improve interactive Ground Segment Systems at the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) for more than 10 years and is also involved in the development of software architectures and user interface modeling for interactive cockpits in large civil aircraft (funded by Airbus). He is also involved in the research network HALA! (Higher Automation Levels in Aviation) funded by SESAR program which targets at building the future European air traffic management system. The main driver of Philippe’s research over the last 20 years has been to address in an even way Usability, Safety and Dependability in order to build trustable safety critical interactive systems. As for conferences he is a member of the program committee of conferences in these domains such as SAFECOMP 2013 (32nd conference on Computer Safety, Reliability and Security), DSN 2014 (44th conference on Dependable Systems and Networks), EICS 2014 (21st annual conference on Engineering Interactive Computing Systems) and was co-chair of CHI 2014 (32nd conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems) and research papers co-chair of INTERACT 2015.

ICS-IRIT, University Toulouse 3, 31062 Toulouse cedex, France.
Tel.: +33 561 55 6965
Email Phil
Phil's home page

Camille Fayollas
is a post-doc researcher in Computer Science at University Toulouse 3 and at the IRIT lab . Her research involves techniques, notations and tools to specify and develop fault-tolerant, dependable and usable interactive critical systems.

ICS-IRIT, University Toulouse 3, 31062 Toulouse cedex, France.
Tel.: +33 561 55 6965
Email Camille
Camille's home page

Célia Martinie
is Assistant Professor in Computer Science at University of Toulouse 3. She has been working on task modeling techniques for the design and development of interactive systems since the beginning of her PhD in 2009. Prior to that, she worked in the mobile industry (Motorola) during 8 years, and has contributed to the design and development of user interfaces for mobile devices. She is the principal investigator of the projects related to the design and development of the HAMSTERS notation and tools. She applied the task modeling approaches to a variety of systems including satellite ground segments, interactive cockpits of large civil aircrafts and air traffic control workstations.

ICS-IRIT, University Toulouse 3, 31062 Toulouse cedex, France.
Tel.: +33 561 55 6965
Email Célia
Célia's home page