From human-machine interaction to human-tech relationships
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From human-machine interaction to human-tech relationships

Cindy Waxer — November 2015
Anthropologist and futurist Genevieve Bell, a vice president in the corporate strategy office at Intel, explores humankind’s deepening relationship with digital machines.
genevieve-bell Intel

As a vice president in the Corporate Strategy Office at Intel, Genevieve Bell is keenly aware of the deepening relationship between human beings and digital machines. A self-proclaimed “full-time anthropologist, part-time futurist,” Bell spends her days examining the intersection of man and machine. Ahead of her keynote speech at
Fujitsu Forum 2015 in Munich, she talked with about the broader world of technology’s possibilities.

I-CIO: How is the relationship between human beings and technology shifting from everyday interactions to deeper and more meaningful relationships?

Genevieve Bell (GB): For a long time our relationships with technology have been very instrumental, where we’ve told technologies what to do. Now we’re moving into a world where a lot of technology can be more anticipatory. For example, the fact that Amazon can offer one-hour delivery windows in certain metropolitan centers in the US and UK is because they actually have enough data to work out what gets purchased in any given week and how they should prefill their warehouse to be able to anticipate people’s needs. There’s a level of anticipatory computing and activity that suggests we might move from the classic domain of human-computer interaction to human-computer relationships. And these activities will be fascinating to see as they unfold.

I-CIO:The arrival of any transformative technologies have been accompanied by societal anxiety – about automation, the redundancy of certain jobs and tasks, invasion of personal freedom and privacy, and more. How is the public’s acceptance of new technology changing?

GB: New technologies have frequently provoked anxieties. We've certainly worried about trains, electricity, television and cars. But one of the interesting things about this current moment is the scale on which some of these transformations are happening both in terms of footprint and speed. It took a while to electrify the Western world and different countries had different reactions that were not mutually informing one another.

What’s interesting to me is that many of the anxieties sound terribly familiar. Today’s reactions [to developments such as advanced robotics and driverless cars] are not dissimilar to anxieties that have been rehearsed historically about the importance of physical safety, culture, family and localness. What’s different now is the scale these conversations are happening on and the speed at which technologies are being deployed.

I-CIO:Much of your research focuses on how we can create new technologies and products that cater to people’s needs and desires. What role does researching user experience play at Intel?

GB: User experience is part of our advanced research and design process. For us, it’s about how we use research, social science and design to open up people’s thinking. How might you explore different ways of doing things? How might you find other ways to open up a conversation?

At Intel, we had user experience in our R&D labs before we had it anywhere else, so it was always part of our research. It’s now everywhere else in the company. It was another tool for how we think about the new possibilities for technology. It’s part and parcel of how we start with the broadest possible set of inputs into our technology development process. We do as much exploratory work as possible in order to challenge our own worldviews.

I-CIO:What upcoming developments in technology are you most excited about?

GB: I’m in the process of doing a second round of thinking about what the future looks like. For me, it’s an exercise in not only seeing what the future will look like for Intel but for the world of computing. I’ve been in this field for a long time.

My first book was about the ubiquitous computing vision that had been put forward in the late 1980s and that has really framed the past 20-plus years of my work. But it’s been fascinating over the past year or two to see a lot of that vision finally get built out: predictive computing, anticipatory computing, computing that is proactive. So I’m interested in thinking about what that next evolution looks like, what the future of computing will look like. That’s a great question to get to tackle.

• Genevieve Bell will be delivering a keynote speech on ‘Building the Future: People, technology and a world of possibilities’ at Fujitsu Forum 2015, in Munich (November 18 & 19).
First published November 2015
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