Cognition, Technology & Work

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 67–81 | Cite as

Making sense of the abstraction hierarchy in the power plant domain

  • Morten Lind
Original Article


The paper discusses the abstraction hierarchy proposed by Rasmussen [(1986) Information processing and human-machine interaction, North-Holland] for design of human-machine interfaces for supervisory control. The purpose of the abstraction hierarchy is to represent a work domain by multiple levels of means-end and part-whole abstractions. It is argued in the paper that the abstraction hierarchy suffers from both methodological and conceptual problems. A cluster of selected problems are analyzed and illustrated by concrete examples from the power plant domain. It is concluded that the semantics of the means-end levels and their relations are vaguely defined and therefore should be improved by making more precise distinctions. Furthermore, the commitment to a fixed number of levels of means-end abstractions should be abandoned and more attention given to the problem of level identification in the model-building process. It is also pointed out that attempts to clarify the semantics of the abstraction hierarchy will invariably reduce the range of work domains where it can be applied.


Abstraction hierarchies Automation design Cognitive engineering Plant modeling Supervisory control 



The Danish Foundation for Basic Research supported the present work through a contract with the Center for Human-Machine Interaction (CHMI).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Human-Machine Interaction, Ørsted DTU, AutomationTechnical University of DenmarkLyngbyDenmark

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