Tel +44 161 295 2913
After obtaining a First Class Honours Degree in Electronics (Science) at the University of Southampton in 1969, Andrew Basden entered research in the field of Computer Aided Design. For his PhD Thesis he pioneered a topological method for laying out electronic circuit boards that still has relevance today, and discovered the creative joys of writing software. He spent the next twelve years outside academia in the business uses of computers - starting with data analysis, progressing through medical records (and the problems of error-ridden data) into expert systems (knowledge based systems; KBS) in the chemical industry and the surveying profession. The experiences during this period impressed upon him that technology is people, not just computers, and he started to devise approaches that took into account the real-world needs and benefits. Returning to academic life in 1987, as lecturer in the Information Technology Institute at the University of Salford, he started to research the foundations of this experience, devise models and methodologies, and seek philosophical underpinnings. He has taught a wide variety of topics, and has contributed via his research to the following areas, spanning both 'soft' and 'hard':
But Andrew was also concerned that the shape of KBS technology should be made more 'appropriate' to the needs of the real world and real-life knowledge representation. This concern led him to a number of related areas of research:
Several demonstration knowledge bases (including contract authoring) are available on the Istar Knowledge Server web page.
Some of the technical issues in adapting a KBS inference engine to use on the web are discussed in:
Basden A, (2000), "Some technical and non-technical issues in implementing a knowledge server", Software - Practice and Experience 30:1127-1164.
"The real problem with the interface is that it is an interface. Interfaces get in the way. I don't want to focus my energies on an interface. I want to focus on the job."
It became clear that when building complex knowledge bases in ill-structured domains the process is more akin to creative design than to assembly of knowledge-pieces. The user interface must impose minimal cognitive effort and not interrupt the continuous flow of thinking that is taking place. This is important in software tools that aid creative thinking and design and for immersive software like computer games and virtual environments. The traditional point-and-click 'graphical' user interface is too 'distal' for these.
Using ideas from the philosopher Michael Polanyi, Andrew Basden has devised the notion of the Proximal User Interface (PUI), worked out a set of principles for design and evaluation of PUI, and implemented and tested these in two software packages (Istar knowledge based system toolkit, and Annotator , which allows annotation of images). What is new about PUI is not so much the technology, as that it is a new way of thinking about user interface as such: no longer seen as an intermediary as a 'glue' that fits the artifact comfortably to the user's mind.
Traditional drawing packages might allow us to produce good pictures - but they do not capture the meaning of what we draw. Visual programming packages capture some of the meaning - but only entities, attributes and relationships and seldom such things as complex spatial knowledge as found in contour maps, surface coverage maps, etc., and in any case they are rather clumsy, 'distal', in use. What we need is:
Andrew Basden is supervising research (by Kamaran Fathulla) into a new approach to 'thinking by drawing' - including both establishing the underlying theory and also implementing it in software. This research goes in the reverse direction to that normally encountered that is directed at how to create displays for existing data or knowledge or to undertake spatial logic. The theory involves both that of Proximal User Interfaces, appropriateness and philosophy.
So far, this has been investigated in two contexts, the creation of knowledge bases in ill-structured domains (Istar) and the annotation of historical images (Annotator). In both, the user draws what they mean and immediately what is drawn can be searched or executed.
Attarwala FT, Basden A, (1985), "A methodology for constructing Expert Systems", R&D Management, v.15, n.2, pp.141-149.
However, there is a further problem: KBSs are often far too narrow in the knowledge they contain. Andrew supervised, and then worked with, research by Mike Winfield (University of Central England), to produce the MAKE (Multi-Aspectual Knowledge Elicitation) method that has proved successful in stimulating experts to consider all the aspects of their work and also in explicating tacit knowledge. Its strength comes from its philosophical base. This work is reported in:
Winfield M J, Basden A, Cresswell I, (1996), "Knowledge elicitation using a multi-modal approach". World Futures 47:93-101.
and briefly described on Andrew's website in MAKE.html.
CCM combines a linear with an iterative structure to be both responsive to changing client needs and situations and controllable within set timescales and resources. It manages this because CCA pays attention to the multi-stakeholder human side of real-life development projects, and to the need to aim for real benefits rather than just delivery of technology. It contains a strong emphasis on ethics. These are described in
Basden A, Watson I D, Brandon P S, (1995), Client-Centred: An Approach to Knowledge Based Systems, CLRC: Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, U.K. ISBN 0 9023 7635 7.
Watson ID, Basden A, Brandon P, (1992) "The client-centred approach: expert system development", Expert Systems, v.9, n.4, pp.181-188.
Watson ID, Basden A, Brandon P, (1992) "The client-centred approach: expert system maintenance", Expert Systems, v.9, n.4, pp.189-196.
Of course, an important element of such a methodology is to take account of real-world usage, both desired and actual.
A joint EPSRC-funded project with the University of Newcastle Psychology Department studied the successful KBS, ELSIE, in use among quantity surveyors. A particularly significant research outcome, described in
Basden A, (1994), "Three Levels of Benefit in Expert Systems", Expert Systems, v.11, n.2, pp.99-107,
was the development of a three-layer model of usage and benefits, by which the link between technical features and impact the artifact might have when in use can be understood, and hence predicted, evaluated and designed for. It has been applied, for example, to virtual environments technology.
It is not enough to understand how impacts of technology use come about; some impacts are positive, leading to success of an information system, while others are negative. What might be benefits to one person is detriment to another. Benefits might accrue in the short term and immediate context, but there might be indirect, unintended and unanticipated detriment in the longer term. How do we address these issues?
Andrew is working on a new approach that starts from a philosophical foundation that suggest new frameworks for understanding I.T. usage, success and failure. It is briefly outlined in the section in 'Beyond Emancipation' on Distinguishing Success from Failure.
A major element in Dooyeweerd's philosophy is his pluralistic ontology of aspects that allows us to avoid both the monistic-reductionist and the dualistic approaches that others give us, that is useful in both methodology and usage. It also parallels the levels and the aspects of knowledge, and is the basis of MAKE. The aspects can provide us with an evaluation tool that can stimulate discussion:
Andrew Basden is a founder member of the Centre for Philosophy, Technology and Social Systems, jointly with the Free University of Amsterdam and the University of Luleā, Sweden, and is 'gatekeeper' for The Dooyeweerd Pages.
Andrew has sought for a sounder basis for interdisciplinary thinking and working. Dooyeweerdian philosophy provides one such basis, postulating a clear yet theorectically robust view of what a discipline is and what is the relatiohship between them. This work is in the early days, but it is hoped that a firm theoretical foundation can be found that is strong enough to support a wide range of interdisciplinary activity.
The older, 1997, version is still available.