This is day 1 of the Graphic and Visual Representations of Evidence and Inference in Legal Settings conference in New York. Probably never before have so many argument mapping aficionadoes been gathered at one place before. It is only a small conference – maybe 75 people total – but the concentration of interest is remarkable. I’d only met two of these people before, and then only briefly, but “knew” dozens of them in varying degrees by internet association or being otherwise acquainted with their work. In addition to the academics there are a number of lawyers and others coming from a more commercial direction, and their presence/interest is an indication of how structured argumentation, argument visualisation, etc., are starting to get traction outside of narrow academic niches. There’s a good chance that in 10-20 years it will turn out that this conference was a pivotal moment in the field of argument mapping – a bit like the 1956 Dartmouth Artificial Intelligence workshop.
My talk in the second session today was “Rationale – A Generic Argument Mapping Tool.” I gave an overview of Rationale, and discussed some of the issues surrounding its design. In the day or two leading up the presentation, I figured out that there were three main points to be made:
- In considering what is a good visualisation of evidence, we must attend at least as much to the nature of users and their tasks as we do to the nature of the domain itself.
- A good visualisation is one which supports interaction as much as comprehension.
- We should think of ourselves as builders of thinking support systems based on interactive diagrams rather than as argument diagrammers.
I also emphasised the importance, to us, of the market – our customers and clients – as constraints on what we develop. In other words, Rationale is the way it is, in a great many aspects, because of our sense that it has to be that way to be commercially successful.
A key development in today’s talk was that I used Rationale itself as the presentation tool, rather than using (e.g.) PowerPoint. This might be the first time somebody has done that. Over the past few weeks, even in last day or two before I set off for New York, the technical team was looking at this issue and adding some new features (such as an animated zoom-to-map) which helped make it possible to use Rationale this way. I started out with a view of the entire workspace with various grouping and argument maps ready for the presentation:
and zoomed in and out, and panned around, as required. I also did some “on the fly” argument mapping, dragging and dropping claims from the browser window. Somebody came up afterwards and asked if we’d considered using Rationale to plan a whole book, since all the pieces of it could be on the same infinite workspace.
The talk seemed to go over well and generally people seemed impressed with Rationale. It was a great feeling to be “showing off” such a quality tool. I was (of course) proud of Rationale, and of the Austhink team who’ve been creating it over the past year or more.