Thursday, June 11, 2015

Why isn't there more progress in HCI research?

One of the questions that always comes back to me is if HCI as a field of research is actually making any progress. Is there any form of knowledge accumulation or growth? Is what we know as a field getting more stable? Are there things we today know with some certainty that were open questions some years ago? My personal answer to these questions is basically "no". I do not think there are any serious progress made. I think it is clear that the field has matured in the sense that there are more researchers and scholars who are able to perform well developed research. The field has also matured in the sense that there are some deeper understanding of what constitute the core of the field, even though I doubt that now and then. So, is it possible to figure out if the field is making progress or not?

In a new book "Philosophers of our times", edited by Ted Honderich, the well known philosopher David J. Chalmers has a chapter titled "Why isn't there more progress in philosophy?" (from which I
obviously borrowed the title to this post).

Chalmers explores and elaborates on the question of progress in philosophy by dividing it into three questions (1) is there progress in philosophy, (2) in there as much progress as in science, and (3) why isn't there more progress in philosophy? These questions forces Chalmers into some quite detailed discussions of what "progress" is or should be understood. He uses the notion of "large collective convergence to the truth of the big questions" as a definition of progress. This definition is not difficult to understand even though Chalmers goes into substantial detail in examining each of the words in the sentence, such as, "truth", "large", "big", "convergence" etc. Then he makes the comparison with science who undoubtedly has been extremely successful in making progress. His conclusion is that philosophy is not really making any progress, he speculates on why that is the case, and he discusses the future prospects of progress.

I will not go into any more detail of Chalmers' chapter, just mention that it is possible and interesting to read his chapter while substituting the word "philosophy" with "HCI". Maybe not to anyones surprise, HCI comes out much more similar to philosophy than to science (at least in my analysis). If we look at what HCI has achieved during these last 30 years, the results seem more similar to the kind of "progress" that we can see in philosophy than what we see in science. The conclusion of this is not necessarily a bad thing for HCI, but it is definitely a result that challenges the common understanding within HCI research of what kind of field it is, and it definitely should influence the hope within HCI of what it should aspire to be.


Harold Nelson said...

I think the definition of progress is a key point. I don't know about the relationship to HCI but I think it is a very appropriate approach to understanding design.

Vintage Leather Bags said...

Interesting article

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