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The Aging Mind: Opportunities in Cognitive Research
these questions in cognitive science because the research will allow them to test and refine hypotheses about the ways sociocultural factors shape human behavior and development.
3. Developing the knowledge needed to design effective technologies to support adaptivity? in older adults.
As already noted, new sensing and information technology holds promise for revolutionary advances in adapting environments to suit the cognitive needs of aging individuals. To achieve this promise, it is necessary to develop a sufficient understanding of sensory-motor and higher-level cognitive functioning in aging individuals to make it possible to design devices and decision aids to work well with individuals whose level of functioning without assistance has declined. It is also important to assess the society-and culture-shaping potential of new adaptive technologies from the perspective of older adults to guard against undesirable secondary effects of the new technology.
To illustrate the need for basic research, consider a computer-controlled device that can provide information to assist an older person in driving a car. To function well, such a device should be capable of identifying what the person is trying to do—for instance, it should be able to discriminate between a pattern of collision avoidance and one of loss of attention or consciousness. Many new control technologies are being developed that can monitor speech, gaze, head movement, gesture, biopotentials, and the like as inputs (NATO Research and Technology Organization, 1998). These technologies would need to be supplemented with analytic techniques, such as hidden Markov models that yield inferences about the person's strategies and goals (see Fisher, Appendix D). Thus, the new devices would need to combine monitoring and control technology, behavioral understanding of the relevant sensory-motor and cognitive processes, and the appropriate quantitative techniques of data processing to provide the right information to the control mechanism. It would also be necessary to address issues of information display, information overload, distribution of control between the device and the user, and user acceptance.
Designing technologies that interact appropriately with the behavioral needs and capabilities of older adults thus presents a significant research challenge. The challenge includes learning how to design technologies to foster and not supplant mental abilities. Meeting this challenge would bring obvious practical benefits and would also advance science by contributing to basic understanding of how older people search, plan, locomote, navigate, and solve problems in technology-aided contexts. More detail on the nature of the research challenges and opportunities can be found in the discussion of adaptive interfaces in Appendix D.
This research also presents a special challenge of implementation because