In 1951, Fitts published a list of “what men are better at” and what “machines are better at,” sometimes known as the “Fitts MABA–MABA list” (Table 9.1). The list is obviously out of date because modern sensors and computers currently outpace people in several of the categories. There have been various international meetings on human–computer allocation, but consensus on a replacement for the Fitts list is elusive, perhaps because sensor and computer capabilities keep getting better.

TABLE 9.1 Fitts’ list

Men are better at
  • Detecting small amounts of visual, auditory, or chemical energy
    • Perceiving patterns of light or sound
    • Improvising and using flexible procedures
    • Storing information for long periods of time and recalling appropriate parts
    • Reasoning inductively
    • Exercising judgment
Machines are better at
  • Responding quickly to control signals
    • Applying great force smoothly and precisely
    • Storing information briefly, erasing it completely
    • Reasoning deductively

To counter the then prevailing popular notion that systems were either automated or they were not, Sheridan and Verplank (1978) proposed what has come to be known as levels of automation (Table 9.2). It motivated a variety of reactions, including criticism that it did not provide guidance on its use in system design (which was never intended in the original paper). Indeed, a “levels” taxonomy can take many different forms and be ...

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