The impact of automated cognitive assistants on situational awareness in the brigade combat team

Carl E. Fischer


This research investigated the impact of automated cognitive assistants, specifically, the Personalized Assistant that Learns (PAL), on situational awareness, efficiency and effectiveness of decision making in the brigade combat team. PAL was recently commissioned by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to enhance decision making with the Command Post of the Future (CPOF). This is the first study to investigate PAL's effectiveness.

Previous literature has indicated that automated cognitive assistants can reduce cognitive load and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of decision-making. This is consistent with constructivist theories that assume that relegating repetitive tasks to an assistant allows decision makers to focus on the most critical issues. This is particularly true in those conditions where the environment is in continuous flux and the decision makers must remain cognizant of changing situations.

To investigate PAL'S influence on situational awareness, two groups of military officers comprising a convenience sample were placed into two groups representing brigade combat teams. Before tests were administered, each team was trained on the cognitive assistants and given a hands-on examination to measure competency in PAL and CPOF. All subjects participated in one trial with PAL-enhanced CPOF and one trial with CPOF alone. Self-assessments of situational awareness were administered which included sub-scales on: task management, information management, decision support, and appreciation of the environment, visualization and trust. Speed and quality of decision-making were also measured. Repeated measures analysis of variance was used to compare PAL and CPOF only on situational awareness.

In the repeated measures ANOVA, the overall difference on self-report of situational awareness approachedthe .05 level with PAL ( M = 1.85, SD = 0.46) and CPOF ( M = 2.06, SD = 0.57; F(1,10) = 4.61, p = .057), with the lower score indicating higher approval. There was a significant difference on the decision support category of situational awareness in the second trial using both PAL and CPOF ( M = 2.21, SD = 0.59; rated higher than the first trial ( M = 2.53, SD = 0.49; F (1,10) = 5.06, p = .048). The following differences were not significant but the means all favored PAL over CPOF: quality of decision making products PAL ( M = 2.89, SD = 0.75); CPOF ( M = 2.53, SD = 0.83), speed of submission in minutes PAL ( M = 9:13, SD = 3:15); CPOF ( M = 10:00, SD = 5:53), and Situational Awareness quizzes PAL ( M = 67.03, SD = 7.15); CPOF ( M = 59.24, SD = 8.23).

While comparisons of PAL and CPOF were not significant, results indicate that the PAL automated cognitive assistant has promise in improving the situational awareness and efficiency of military leaders in complex decision making. The findings demonstrate that as military officers grow more accustomed to using these analytical systems, both PAL and CPOF, they rate their support in decision making higher. This initial study of PAL was conducted with a convenience sample of 12 military officers. Further studies are warranted to investigate the benefits of automated cognitive assistant on an array of factors that influence decision-making across conditions and audiences.