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Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human-Machine Communication (Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives) [Paperback]

by Lucy A. Suchman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 25, 1987 0521337399 978-0521337397 2
This lively and original book offers a provocative critique of the dominant assumptions regarding human action and communication which underlie recent research in machine intelligence. Lucy Suchman argues that the planning model of interaction favoured by the majority of AI researchers does not take sufficient account of the situatedness of most human social behaviour. The problems that can arise as a result are pertinently, and often amusingly, illustrated by the careful analysis of a recorded interaction between novice users and an intelligent machine, whose design has failed to accommodate essential resources of successful human communication. Plans and Situated Actions presents a compelling case for the re-examination of current models underlying interface design. Lucy Suchman's proposals for a fresh characterisation of human-computer interaction which also incorporates recent insights from the social sciences provides a challenge that everyone interested in machine intelligence will seriously need to consider.

Editorial Reviews


"Plans and Situated Actions is a substantive book. It has somthing important to say both to designers of interactive computer systems and to cognitive scientists who wish to understand communication either between people or between people and machines." Contemporary Psychology

"...a genuine pleasure to see a book that makes a real contribution to cognitive science by way of an anthropological analysis of interaction." American Anthropologist

Book Description

A compelling case for the re-examination of interface design models is presented by this text's assertion that human behavior is not taken into account in the planning model generally favored by artificial intelligence.

Product Details

  • Series: Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives
  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (December 25, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521337399
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521337397
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,160,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fundamental reading June 28, 2000
By Sandro
This is THE book to start with if anybody is interested in studying interaction design. In a time everybody calls themselves an interaction designer, it's a highly recommended reading to learn there's more to interaction than simply large colourful buttons... Based on an ethnomethodological perspective, Suchman does a brilliant job in analysing users' interactions with an advanced Xerox machine, and putting forth an interesting critique of classical AI concepts. It's highly recommended for anybody interested in Human-Computer Communication and interaction design.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important Beyond Its Ostensible Field July 11, 2002
This is an outstanding book. The insight that showed the power of the idea of `situated action' goes far beyond the realm of interactive design or even human computer interaction in its entirety. It is a fundamental solution to the problem of facing complexity and contingency. Its implications are widespread. This book was published in the 1987 when during the last days of classical AI. This is one of the seminal books that showed the inadequacies of the classical formulation. Indeed it showed a new and much more way of achieving the goals that classical AI set for itself and failed. Despite its age the ides in this book are still fresh and important.
. Absolute certainty is impossible and the quest for it is costly and futile. Instead of trying to overcome the uncertainty that is in the world, the system designer should embrace it and use it as a tool to solve the problems that it creates.
This is a book that should be read by anyone who has set the task for themselves of developing any system that must function in an uncertain environment. In short this is a book that should be read by anyone who is developing a system that will have to function within the real world
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This book is not for everyone. Suchman makes connections between AI, HCI and the sociological areas of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis (EM/CA) - connections that have been very visible and influential in subsequent HCI and CSCW research. If you don't have any background in these sociological areas, it will take some work to read it.

That said, I think this book is reasonably accessible, and certainly more so than has been suggested by some reviewers. Suchman was writing to counter a prevalent mindset in the AI community of the time. Basically, Chapters 2 and 3 set up a technical and philosophical strawman (human action as the execution of plans), Chapters 4 and 5 provide an explanation of some necessary theoretical background, and the rest is an analysis of interaction in the context of these theories that serves to knock down the strawman. It's fairly hard to have a more clear and logical organization than that. There's no part of that organization that could be left out and still have the book make sense.

Furthermore, by comparison, the theoretical parts of this book should be easier for the uninitiated to read than are Garfinkel's writings on ethnomethodology (or most CA writings by almost anyone). They may or may not do justice to those ideas, but that's a separate question. And for someone with any background at all in these areas (though as suggested by other reviewers, this does not include a huge number of people), this book should be a very straightforward read.

The bottom line for me is that this book (like Paul Dourish's "Where the Action Is") is an interdisciplinary gem that has the potential to change how you think about how people approach technology. There aren't that many books for which that can be said.
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