Diagramming Robust AI

Michael D. Kersey mdkersey at hal-pc.org
Wed Apr 1 10:45:38 EST 1998

Ellen Ullman's statements, if not made facetiously, are a very
pessimistic interpretation of the process of developing interfaces. I
prefer to think in terms of older adages that allow for human
a) "People make mistakes."
b) "Nothing human is foreign to me." - Note that this allows for the
possibly malevolent user, who certainly does exist, but is much less
common than the person who makes mistakes.
c) "Accidents happen." - Sometimes it really isn't the user. Other
components, including the software itself, other programs, the operating
system or network, etc. fail to act as anticipated. 

I believe these are more to the point of what we try to do.
Good Luck,
Michael D. Kersey

Mary Murphy and Leo Wong wrote:
> Frank Sergeant wrote:
> > In article <352045E5.AAA71C20 at albany.net>,
> > Leo Wong <hello at albany.net> wrote:
> > > You may or may not sympathise with this:
> > >
> > > "Behind every user-friendly interface is a terrific human contempt."
> > > - Ellen Ullman
> >
> >      Hopefully Ellen gives enough reasons and/or examples so her
> > reader could decide whether to sympathise with it or not.  As it
> > stands, I do not think we have sufficient data to decide.  Would
> > anyone who has read Ellen care to present the arguments?
> >
> This might help:
> <blockquote>
> Pretty graphical interfaces are commonly called
> "user-friendly."  But they are not really your friends.
> Underlying every user-friendly interface is a terrific
> human contempt.
> The basic idea of a graphical interface is that it does
> not allow anything alarming to happen.  You can
> pound on the mouse button all you want, and the
> system will prevent you from doing anything stupid....
> To build such a crash-proof system, the designer
> must be able to imagine - and disallow  - the dumbest
> action.  He or she cannot simply rely on the user's
> intelligence:  who knows who will be on the other side
> of the program?  Besides, the user's intelligence is not...
> programmable; it cannot protect the system.  No, the
> real task is to forget about the intelligent person on the
> other side and think of every single stupid thing anyone
> might possibly do.
> In the designer's mind, gradually, over months and
> years, there is created a vision of the user as imbecile.
> The imbecile vision is mandatory.  No good, crash-
> proof system can be built except it be done for an
> idiot....
> The prettier the user interface, and the fewer odd
> replies the system allows you to make, the dumber you
> once appeared in the mind of the designer.
> </blockquote>
> -- Ellen Ullman, "Out of Time:  Reflections on the
> Programming Life," in Brook and Boal, _Resisting the
> Virtual Life_.  San Francisco,  City Lights, 1995.
> Leo Wong
> --
> hello at albany.net
> http://www.albany.net/~hello/

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