Neuroergonomics: Getting inside the brain to steer clear of risks

Today is International Civil Aviation Day, a perfect opportunity to reflect on the “Brain at Work” conference held by the AXA Research Fund to further neuroergonomics, the science that studies the brain to better understand how humans and machines interact. ALL NEWS  |  Risk & Research
Dec 7, 2016

Most car accidents are caused by human errors. The share of human responsibility amounts to 70% when it comes to aviation accidents. Most of the time, poor decisions lead to accidents, often the consequence of fatigue, stress, work overload and distraction. Driverless cars, autopilot navigation systems, financial artificial intelligence advisers are all technologies created to assist or replace humans in tasks of utmost importance by taking human factors (ergonomics) into account.

Recent advances in cognitive neuroscience and imaging techniques allow researchers to examine the brain mechanisms in increasingly-naturalistic work and everyday life settings, and better apprehend constant interaction between human and computer, by implementing systems in which both entities are capable of making joint decisions.

AXA co-hosted with ISAE-SUPAERO (France) and Drexel University (PA, USA), the first International Neuroergonomics Conference in Paris, October 6-7, 2016 to take stock of the achievements made over the last decade, foster exchanges among scientists and relevant industrial stakeholders, encourage multilateral collaborations and develop ideas for the future.

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Frédéric Dehais is the first holder of the AXA Chair in Neuroergonomics for Flight Safety. The Chair was designed to unravel what is going on in pilots’ minds in times of stress, which brain mechanisms are involved and the solutions to be implemented to improve safety and performance.

In addition to aviation and automobile, neuroergonomics can have implications in a number of other fields such as health, finance, and even crowd evacuation. Take finance for instance, “Neuroergonomics could contribute to the design of artificial intelligence (AI) capable of making the system more resilient by eliminating bias from the table” says Eric Chaney, advisor to AXA’s Chief Economist, Laurence Boone. “At AXA, we believe that trust is going to be the key word of the future. We are thinking of how can we enhance trust in our way we do business, and the way we're dealing with data. Neuroergonomics give us priceless perspectives in that area”.

Technological advances driven by neuroergonomics can also lead to improved care for head injuries. The development of portable devices promises faster, more comprehensive care for patients. For example, recording brain activity over longer periods of time could help to detect “silent” injuries – without waiting for symptoms to appear. The effectiveness of certain treatments, including treatments of mental and behavioral disorders, such as addictions, could also be better assessed.

Highlight – International Civil Aviation Day

December 7 was proclaimed International Civil Aviation Day by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996. The day was first celebrated for the 50th anniversary of the signature of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, better known as the “Chicago Convention”. Signed by 52 countries on December 7, 1944, the convention created a United Nations agency in charge of coordinating international air travel.

AXA plays an important role in flight safety: AXA Corporate Solutions insures 70% of airline companies, 90% of aircraft manufacturers, and 65% of airports and airport service companies. Dzung Nguyen-Tu, Head of Aviation and Space at AXA Corporate Solutions, said: "Flight safety is a key topic for all. As an insurer, risk prevention is at the heart of AXA concerns. We are very proud to support the Frédéric Dehais’ AXA Chair in Neuroergonomics for Flight Safety, which has already brought major advancements in the field and is a key player to improve risk management in the long term."

The AXA Research Fund contributes to the development of research on increasing the safety of air travel, notably by supporting research by Frédéric Dehais and by Corrado Cimarelli. The latter is a volcanologist investigating how volcanic centers can affect air traffic: