Genevieve Bell: Humanizing Technology

Last Updated: August 14, 2019 11:27 am
Genevieve Bell: Humanizing Technology

Genevieve Bell: Humanizing Technology

Dr. Genevieve Bell, an Australian-born anthropologist, has been an advocate for user-centered technology design at Intel and currently shapes conversations about artificial intelligence (AI) as the founder and director of the 3A Institute at The Australian National University, where students study critical questions about AI as they earn a master’s degree in cybernetics. In a world where technology is becoming more pervasive, Bell continuously raises users’ needs and works to make sure that humans are part of the equation when creating technology. In this way, she has played a significant role in helping Intel engineers make products that meet the needs of people around the world, and her current work seeks to ensure that AI innovations align with society’s values, ethics, and safety needs. Read on to learn more about Bell and how she helps ‘humanize’ technology!

When Bell joined Intel in 1998 as their in-house anthropologist, she started in the R&D lab, worked in the product group, and led the company’s first UX (user experience) group before taking on other leadership roles, such as that of a Vice President directing the Corporate Sensing & Insights group. Her belief that much of the world experiences the Internet on a mobile phone led her to advocate for mobile-friendly processors like the Atom microprocessor (launched by Intel in 2012), which is cheaper and consumes less power than the Corei3 or Celeron processors. She also promoted consumer needs by leading a team that interviewed Chinese parents who were wary about home computers: They didn’t want the computers to distract their children from schoolwork. To alleviate those concerns, Intel developed a product called “China Home Learning PC,” released in 2005, with a feature that parents could use to prevent children from playing games when they were supposed to be doing homework.

Bell is helping us think about the ethics, policies, and safety measures we must consider as AI—a ‘constellation of technologies’ that includes data, algorithms, machine learning, and sensing–becomes more and more integrated into our lives. She believes that ‘AI is not the end game, it’s just the power’ that makes other innovations possible, just as steam power and earlier computing power have enabled other advances in technology. According to Bell, humans need to think about the ‘why’ behind AI and make sure it’s being used in ways that are helpful for everyone. To combat concerns about built-in biases, human irrelevance, privacy, and more, we need to have proactive conversations among diverse technologists that translate into AI design protocols. 

That’s why, in 2017, Bell joined the faculty at the Australian National University’s (ANU) College of Engineering and Computer Science as a Distinguished Professor and later founded the 3A Institute at ANU. The goal of 3A is to ‘[design] and build a new intellectual framework for managing artificial intelligence at scale’ and ‘develop a new applied science to ensure the responsible use of AI.’ The Institute grants a Masters in Applied Cybernetics and students explore 3 A’s related to AI: Agency (how much agency do we give technology?), Assurance (how do we preserve our safety and values?) and Autonomy (just because we could automate something, should we?). True to the interdisciplinarity of Bell’s background, the 3A Institute looks for ‘students of all backgrounds and disciplines who have a passion for humans, technology and the planet.’ As students graduate, they will make meaningful contributions to conversations about AI at various levels of industry and government. As Bell explained in a 2018 talk, cutting-edge innovations require new academic degrees to learn how to master them, which is why she started this new degree program at ANU. By creating this new degree program, Bell is making a difference in the world as she empowers a new generation of technology leaders to help ensure that AI is used in beneficial ways.

What new inventions does your child imagine we’ll have in the next 5 or 50 years? What do they think those inventions should be like? How can we use those inventions to help people? Can their technology inadvertently harm people? Prepare your child for their future as technology leaders by discussing these questions! 

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