Sunday, July 31, 2011

How far can you take simulations?

Now here is a very interesting case.  There is one family of a 9/11 victim that is still suing the government.  This is the family of a passenger in one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center.  The dispute that I want to talk about today is that the family has put a very large monetary value on the terror that this person must have felt in the few minutes after he realized that the plane was going to be flown into the Towers.  The jury needs to decide how long he would have known this, how much fear that would have created, and how much compensation this is worth.  In order to do that, the family asked the judge to allow them to create a simulation of those last few minutes to show the jury and let them experience it personally.  The judge agreed. 

Can a simulation like this work?  In human factors research, we try to create ecologically valid scenarios to test user interfaces all the time.  Sometimes it is important to understand the users’ emotion, like frustration or hurriedness.  But this legal case takes it up a whole order of magnitude.  I am not sure if the typical juror could really watch a simulation and imagine what the passenger felt like, let alone put a dollar value on it. 

What do you think?

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