It’s the 21st Century – What Did You Expect?

Does the term “intelligent agent” bring to mind an image of a government operative carrying out less-than-wholesome activities in foreign lands? Do you think a “wearable computer” is a device that has been engineered to withstand coffee spills and forceful two-finger keyboard pecking? Can an “adaptive room” be created by placing a small refrigerator next to the lazy-boy chair in the family room? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, do not tell your network administrator.

At the APS Annual Convention in Atlanta, Lori Foster Thompson, East Carolina University, explored the importance of psychological research into changing technologies in her invited address, “Computer-Supported Collaboration and the Future of Work.”

Thompson’s research focuses on understanding individual, team, and organizational reactions to emerging technologies, such as intelligent agents, wearable computers, and adaptive rooms, and to determine how psychologists can guide the implementation of these emerging technologies into organizations.

According to Thompson, the psychological community needs to take a proactive role in facilitating the successful implementation of these technologies rather than reacting to problems later on. A cursory search through any psychological database will reveal an abundance of current studies focused on identifying palliatives for unforeseen problems arising from the implementation of desk-top computers, the internet, and e-mail; technologies that are “old news.”

New technologies create new dilemmas. Will workers trust “intelligent agents,” a program that works continually in the background to learn, take initiative, and make inferences about appropriate courses of action. These capabilities allow “intelligent agent” technologies to perform tasks as mundane as scheduling appointments for busy scholars, and as extraordinary as being the arbiter of military force.

A “wearable computer” is more portable and less bulky than a laptop computer. It is so portable that it promises to be able to scan a person’s image, instantaneously download information about that individual, and provide the information on a visual “heads-up” display discretely concealed in a fashionable pair of wayfarers. What happens when an individual’s “wearable computer” crashes? Will people rely on them too much?

How will employees react to wearing sensors in an “adaptive room,” a virtual environment that dynamically adjusts to workers’ needs by continually monitoring and adjusting the environment to meet a team’s physical and cognitive workflow requirements? What about on a larger scale, in a “cooperative building?”

Preemptive investigations into these and other potential issues will allow psychologists to maintain a prominent role in guiding organizations that are adopting new technologies, and insure that an organization’s human recourses are prepared to welcome the arrival of the next wave of performance enhancing technologies.

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