Situated actions as ...

blabbedharborAI and Robotics

Feb 23, 2014 (8 years and 8 days ago)


An alternative view of human action

An alternative account of the relation

of plans to situated actions

The user as a resourceful person

Situated actions as ...

Lucy Suchman, 1987


Philosophy ( Dreyfus)

Phenomenology (Merleau

Ponty )

Symbolic Interactionism (Garfinkel, Goffman)

Interested in producing an adequate base of
descriptions of human practices

What’s happens when someone does something ?

Suchman’s central concern

The relation between
observable behaviour

and the
processes not available to direct observation
, that make
behaviour meaningful,

What constitutes purposeful actions and how is it
understood ?

About the European and

the Trukese navigator


navigator exemplifies the
cognitive science

model of purposeful action


navigator exemplifies the
situated action


The view of action exemplified by the European navigator is
being reified in the design of intelligent machines

The logical form of plans makes them attractive for the
purpose of constructing a computational model of action

The view that purposeful action is determined by plans, is
deeply rooted in the Western human sciences as the correct
model of the rational actor

Two alternative views of action

planning view

The organization and significance of human action is
located in underlying plans (artificial intelligence)

ii) The
situated actions


The prescriptive significance of intentions for situated
actions is inherently vague (ethnomethodology)

planning view

Plans are prerequisite to and prescribe actions at every
level of detail

Mutual intelligibility is a matter of reciprocal
recognizability of our plans

The planning view has to do with :

The planning model (Miller, Galanter and Pribram, 1960)

Speech act theory (Searle, 1969 )

The idea of shared background knowledge as the common
resource that is given (Durkheim, 1938)



are a sequence of actions designed to
accomplish a preconceived end,


is a form of problem solving and are
described in terms of preconditions and their


define the actor’s relationship to the
situation of action,


is those conditions that obstruct or
advance the actor’s progress toward his/her goal

planning model

in cognitive science

Searle’s speech act theory :

some initial guidelines for

computational models of communication

The hypothesis is that people maintain as part of
their models of the world, symbolic descriptions
of the world models of the people

Speech act are regarded as actions whose effects
are primarily on the models that speakers and
hearers maintain of each other

Background knowledge

Gumperz shows that an action significance seems
to lie as much in what it presupposes and implies
about its situation

He questions the view that background
assumptions are part of the actor’s mental state
prior of action

The background knowledge is not taken for

Significance depends on a particular context that
is always open

Common sense are resources

According to cognitive science

The mind is viewed as an abstractable structure
implementable in any number of possible physical

intelligence is only incidentally embodied in the
neurobiology of the human brain,

what is essential about intelligence can be abstracted
from that particular substrate and embodied in an
unknown range of alternative forms

Artificial Intelligence

People act on the basis of symbolic representation,
a kind of cognitive code,


is not just potentially like computation
it literally
is computational

The view that intelligence is the manipulation of
symbols finds practical implementation both in so
called expert systems and industrial robots

What is a plan ?

”[…] When we speak of a plan the term will refer
to a
hierarchy of instructions

A plan is any hierarchical process in the organism
that can control the order in which a sequence of
operations is to be performed.

A plan is for an organism essentially the same as a
program for a computer […]”
Miller, Galanter and
Pribram, 1960

situated action


Focus on practice as different to the study of the
formal cognitive properties of artifacts

Unit of analysis is
the activity of persons
acting in

The prescriptive significance of intentions for
situated action is inherently vague,

Improvisatory nature of human action

Human action is contingent

Situated action view

Every course of action depends in essential ways upon its
material and social circumstances


Plans are representations of situated actions


In the course of situated action representation occurs where
there is a breakdown

The objectivity of the situation of our action is achieved rather
than given


Central resource for achieving the objectivity of situations is

Mutual intelligibility is achieved in every occasion of

The problem of human

”Expert help system”

based system attached to a photocopier,
intended to instruct the user

The design objective

to provide timely and relevant information to the user
regarding the operation of the copier

The system must recognize the action of the user

The expert help system

identifies ...

the user’s purposes with a job specification and the
specification invokes a associated plan

the plan is ascribed to the user as a basis for interpreting her

the plan is conveyed in the form of instructions for a step

the design assumes that there is correspondence of the
system’s plan to the user’s purposes that enables the

Which are the consequences of taking a statement of
intent and an ascribed plan as grounds for the
interpretation of situated action ?

Troubles for the resourceful user...

Plans and states


Situated inquiries

Problems of understanding due to the disparity

of their respective resources



The system’s resources

The machine has access only to a very small
subset of user action

i.e.Doors being opened and closed, buttons being
pushed, papers trays being filled…

The machine is watching the user’s actions
through a very small key hole, mapping what it
saw back onto a pre specified template of possible

The user’s resources

Human interaction succeeds due not simply to the
abilities to construct meaningfulness but to the
possibility of
mutually constituting intelligibility

i.e.Detection and repair of misunderstandings

Interactive program exploits certain characteristics of
human conversation

Language of interactivity and the dynamics of
computational artifacts obscure enduring

users discover in practice

Speech acts tell us nothing further about the

: Are you going to be here for ten minutes ?

B: Go ahead and take your break. Take longer if you

A: I’ll just be outside on the porch. Call me if you
need me

B: Ok, Don’t worry

(Gumperz, 1982)

How B arrives at the right inference ?

Indexicality of language

Efficiency of language lies in :

expressions with conventional meanings

its relationship to circumstances (conditional

The indexicality of instructions means that an
instruction ’s significance with respect to action does
not inhere in the instruction but must be found in the
situation of use

The mutual intelligibility of actions

Within the normative paradigm actors share a
system of culturally established symbols and

The stability of the social world is not due to an
eternal structure but to situated actions that create
and sustain shared understanding on specific
situations of interaction

Relation of plans to situated actions

In the planning model of human interaction,

plans are mental constructs, abstractions over
action, representations of situated actions

Plans do not take sufficient account of the
situatedness of most social behaviour

The planning model confuses plans with situated

Alternative account of the relation of

plans to situated actions

The foundation of action is not plans but local
interactions with the environment

The function of plans is to orient or position us, to
exploit some contingencies of our environment
and to avoid others

plans are weak resources


Confined to the analysis of actions and operations

Slightly behaviouristic undercurrent in that it is
the subject’s reaction to the environment that
determines action

Primacy of the situation

What constitutes a situation is defined by the

Resourceful user or …. ?