Autopilot, Mind Wandering, and the Out of the Loop Performance Problem

October 5, 2017
Arnaud Delorme, PhD

Gouraud, J., Delorme, A., & Berberian, B. (2017). Autopilot, Mind Wandering, and the Out of the Loop Performance Problem. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 11, 541. doi:10.3389/fnins.2017.00541.


To satisfy the increasing demand for safer critical systems, engineers have integrated higher levels of automation, such as glass cockpits in aircraft, power plants, and driverless cars. These guiding principles relegate the operator to a monitoring role, increasing risks for humans to lack system understanding. The out of the loop performance problem arises when operators suffer from complacency and vigilance decrement; consequently, when automation does not behave as expected, understanding the system or taking back manual control may be difficult. Close to the out of the loop problem, mind wandering points to the propensity of the human mind to think about matters unrelated to the task at hand. This article reviews the literature related to both mind wandering and the out of the loop performance problem as it relates to task automation. We highlight studies showing how these phenomena interact with each other while impacting human performance within highly automated systems. We analyze how this proximity is supported by effects observed in automated environment, such as decoupling, sensory attention, and cognitive comprehension decrease. We also show that this link could be useful for detecting out of the loop situations through mind wandering markers. Finally, we examine the limitations of the current knowledge because many questions remain open to characterize interactions between out of the loop, mind wandering, and automation.

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