Thursday 23 February 2017

Humanity fears nothing more than irrelevance

Intel anthropologist Genevieve Bell talks to Ian Tucker about the rise of the machines and our Frankenstein anxiety that they might end up killing us

Ian Tucker

Genevieve Bell, Intel’s head of sensing and insights
Genevieve Bell, Intel’s head of sensing and insights
FUTURE DAZE: The film Ex Machina plays on our sense of dread that if we create the perfect machine it will only abandon us, says Genevieve Bell

Genevieve Bell is an Australian anthropologist who for 18 years has worked at tech company Intel, where she is currently head of sensing and insights. She has given numerous TED talks and in 2012 was inducted into the Women in Technology hall of fame. Between 2008 and 2010, she was also South Australia's thinker in residence.

Why does a company such as Intel need an anthropologist?

That is a question I've spent 18 years asking myself. It's not a contradiction in terms, but it is a puzzle. When they hired me, I think they understood something that not everyone in the tech industry understood, which was that technology was about to undergo a rapid transformation. Computers went from being on an office desk spewing out Excel to inhabiting our homes and lives and we needed to have a point of view about what that was going to look like. It was incredibly important to understand the human questions: such as, what on earth are people going to do with that computational power. If we could anticipate just a little bit, that would give us a business edge and the ability to make better technical decisions. But as an anthropologist that's a weird place to be. We tend to be rooted in the present - what are people doing now and why? - rather than long-term strategic stuff.

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