The World on Her Shoulders

When Dr. Genevieve Bell begun working at Intel, she was told that she would be in charge of two things: Women and ROW.

ROW? Rest of World.

In spite (or perhaps because) of this enormous responsibility on her shoulders, Bell went on to attain the title of Intel Fellow. Director of Intel’s Interaction and Experience Research Division, Bell is an anthropologist that studies how different cultures experience technology.

On August 19, Bell participated in a Q&A with a small group of high school students, myself included. The event, named “Talking to the Future,” was hosted at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. With an enthusiastic voice, a large sprinkle of humor, and an endearing Australian accent, Bell discussed her career and divulged her technological insights.

Bell’s line of work — combining anthropology and engineering — , is, quite literally, a marriage of interests; her mother is an anthropologist, while her father is an engineer. As a child, she had a wide range of experiences. She dangled dead a dead iguana by its tail, as depicted in a poster-sized picture present in the room (“I didn’t realize these photos would haunt me for the rest of my life!”). Yet, Bell also dismantled her first engine at the age of five.

“Perhaps [my job at Intel] is just what I was supposed to be doing all along,” Bell wrote in a personal bio.

The doctor’s occupation consists of traveling to various cultures and noting their technological experiences by looking through a “window into people’s lives.”

“[I] wouldn’t trade [my job] for anything,” Bell said.

Her work is helping Intel transition into a global computing company that can understand the ever-changing needs of the people and the impact of its technology. Bell’s contribution became evident when Intel’s focus changed from exciting “five thousand people…[to scream] about a wafer” to expounding upon the large-scale implications their processors would have on society.

Bell said that Intel’s purchase of McAfee serves as proof that Intel has moved from a PC company to a computing company. Given the spread of technology, security is an increasingly important issue.

“What we have to put up with on PCs we will not tolerate [on other devices],” Bell stated.

According to Bell, another technology that has become an integral part of society is the cell phone. Back in 1999, however, Americans thought, ” [Texting was] just a fad.” Yet now, with the advent of apps, communication devices are becoming even more geared to satisfy the people’s needs. The popularity of apps continues to rise due to the shrinking screen sizes;  “[People] may not want a full-blown experience [like a browser],” Bell said.

Although machines are already ingrained in our lives, Bell wants to further shape technology’s societal role. Her newest goal is “reinventing the way we experience technology by 2020.”

Such an ambitious statement requires an explanation; I asked Bell how she would fulfill her aspiration. She broke her plan down into three parts.

Bell’s first step is to “find out what people love.” Discovering what holds people’s affections and why would help Intel understand how to cater to their clients. Second, she is exploring “the next generation of interfaces;” user interfaces ought to complement, not hinder, products. The last component of her plan involves discovering “what are going to be the compelling experiences.”

“And then you cross your fingers,” Bell laughed.

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