I am delighted that the Royal Institute of Navigation is planning another conference on navigation and the brain. It’s not about technology – although technology plays a part. It’s not about human factors – although a better understanding of people should help designers come up with better products. It’s not about neuroscience – but an understanding of what is going on inside our heads is essential. There are lots of other things it is not about: immersive technologies, natural navigation, simulation and Pokémon Go.
Well actually it is about all of these things and that’s the point: all of them. For a while now the RIN has been turning its attention to what we might call “the third person in the room”. For years we have talked of the human-computer interface as if the “machine” and the “body” were the only parties involved. The navigation computer knows where it is and the operator needs to understand it. Oh the arrogance of designers!
For centuries navigators have been caught up in a love-triangle between their technology (maps and compasses), reality and “nous”. Nous is the cleverest but often quietest member of the party. The little voice in the head. The mental model. The hunch. The tweed-wearing son-of-the-manse with a Morningside accent who apologetically tells brash Mr Technology that no matter how much he shouts about being in agreement with Mr Reality there is a small chance he is wrong. “We wouldn’t want to be too hasty would we.”
So it’s time to stick up for Nous, the oft-forgotten third person in the room. He’s been out of fashion for a while. And just when he’s about to speak-up he’s blotted out by the bigger, brighter screen or drowned out by an even bossier Garmin-lady. And if the fans of artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles are to be believed, the world would be a lot safer if he was silenced once and for all.
So support Nous. Keep your eyes open for a RIN conference in June 2017. The problem is – what to call this neurocognotechnonav thing? Finding the constituent parts of a NOUS acronym would be too painful. I rather like NousTrap.