"Metaffordances" are things or devices that allow creative interaction (from: "meta" =
self-referential, and "affordances" = things that allow or afford actions).
An affordance is a scientific term for the perceivable properties of something such
that the thing is seen in terms of what actions are allowed (definition by the famous experimental psychologist
James Gibson - see "Affordances" on left hand side bar.)
We can see that a chair affords stepping up on...or sitting on...or picking
up; it depends. If one wants to sit, we see that the chair offers an affordance of "sit-on-ability". Perception is possible
because there is information - structured, reflected light all around us. It is composed of mathematical structures
- "higher-order invariants", ratios, constants...patterns. We can perceive things (affordances) because this information
is detected by our senses-brain-body system depending on what we want or intend to do (sit or step up or lift it, etc). In
general, we do not "think" about what meaningful actions the world affords us...we simply and directly SEE the meaningful
properties...we perceive what actions are possible. Most behaviour is based on perception, not thoughts. Perceptual
information is all about ACTION. Because such "ecological information" exists and is about action, it is a new category
of information (discovered by James Gibson, acknowledged as the 20th century's greatest perceptual psychologist). All
organisms perceive their environments in terms of what actions are possible; they
detect information to do this. Animals perceive meaningful affordances,
not just meaningless things. This is because of the
"fit" between the organism and the environment - the ecological fit.
Perception is an ecological phenomenon.
A metaffordance is a special kind of affordance - it is not just a tool...it
is an information tool - a "second-order" affordance, a self-referential affordance,
and it generates information. It affords not just actions like pressing a button (e.g., to turn on a laptop
screen) but new information - about actions and interactions ("informactions"??). When you press a button on
the computer game or website "inside" the computer screen, your action in that "virtual" world has real consequences for you -
in both the virtual and the real world - the new information allows you to do new things..
Metaffordances provide opportunities beyond basic actions because metaffordances generate
information about possible interactions.
Affordances invite us to act; metaffordances invite us to interact...they act
back - they respond.
The responsiveness of metaffordances, due to information generation, allows them to enhance and amplify human
abilities beyond being mere "tools".
1. Pencil: It affords grasping (a basic action affordance) but it allows much more. It
is a metaffordance for communication - it amplifies communication via the action of writing in a language. This
allows interaction with those who can read because it can generate information.
2. Mobile phone: It affords picking up and holding
(basic action affordances). But it is a metaffordance for verbal interaction and discussion between
two interacting people. It generates (and transmits) information.
3. Video conference computer screen: It is a metaffordance for group interaction
4. Augmented reality device (e.g., a smartphone with camera and superimposed
graphics and text): It is graspable (the basic affordance) but it is a metaffordance for amplified interaction
with the thing it is directed at (e.g., a restaurant app that superimposes menus or customer reviews when the screen is pointed
at a particular pizza shop). Or Pokémon Go game - it allows virtual actions with real consequences - you go outside and
walk around and look at stuff (to "capture" virtual animals). The walking is a real activity and a real consequence of the
augmented reality game.
5. Surgical assistive robotics for bone
cutting surface preparation during knee joint replacement: While being primarily moved by the surgeon's hand, the cutting
tool may also be implicitly controlled by a camera-based position detection algorithm so that the assistive robot
knows exactly where the tool is in relation to the limb and with sub-millimetre precision can restrict movement of
the scalpel by creating virtual haptic barriers that provide force feedback resistance to the hand to avoid scalpel over-shoot.
The scalpel is thus precisely constrained and confined to an area it is allowed to cut and grind. This allows the surgeon
to apply the tool more precisely (and without worry of slippage error). This has created an immense advancement in joint replacement
accuracy and post-operative outcome success. The assistive robot (robot arm + end-tool + 3D imaging screen + feedback system)
is a metaffordance for surgeon's performing 21st century arthroplasty - it does not replace the surgeon but
rather enhances and amplifies the information and thus the surgeon's ability and skill for replacing arthritic
joints (e.g., the Mako robot).
What We Can Do For You (but see Background too!)
provide tools and techniques to help you understand the opportunities for action in a changing world of increasing complexity
and mental challenge.
With a background in cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and ecological psychology, we understand the
key role of attention in human performance, and especially in safety. Having conducted the
world's first study in real cars of how talking on a mobile phone degrades the control of driving, we have effective
knowledge to pass on to you on how to dramatically improve your chances of good outcomes in complex information-intensive
With extensive international experience in scientific research, we can provide expertise in data analysis,
visualisation, data interpretation, and all stages of project management.
Together with associated experts and colleagues in the field, we offer techniques that provide
solutions to complex, real world problems. Simple principles can generate complex patterns (even chaotic signals) and understanding
the underlying dynamical principles is the key to progress. We have numerous scientific papers from our projects as proof-of-concept.
Let us help you not only see the simplicity in the complex, but act on it too.