Ep. #32 ‘Hula Hoops not Bicycles’: Genevieve Bell talks Anthropology, Technology & Building the Future

“We were bringing the voices of people that didn’t get inside the building, inside the building and making them count. And I took that as an incredible responsibility, that you should give those voices weight and dignity and power.”
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We are excited to announce that this is the FIRST EPISODE OF OUR STS SERIES! The goal of the STS (science and technology studies, or science, technology and society – your pick!) Series is to explore the ways that humans, science and technology interact. While we have released some STS episodes in 2018, we still had some left in the bag from the 4S Conference PLUS many new ones as well. Let’s go!

Genevieve Bell, Director of the Autonomy, Agency and Assurance (also known as the 3A) Insitute and Florence McKenzie Chair (which promotes the inclusive use of technology in society) at the Australian National University, Vice President and Senior Fellow at Intel Corporation, and ABC’s 2017 Boyer Lecturer, talks to our own Jodie-Lee Trembath about building the future and a question at the heart of STS inquiry: “what is important to humans and how we can make sense of that to unpack the world that we live in?”. They begin by reflecting on the Acknowledgement of Country that we begin every podcast episode with and the power that comes from realising our positions, then discuss being an anthropologist in Silicon Valley, learning how to ‘translate’ anthropology to different audiences, predicting the world in 10 years time and the importance of rituals (especially when finishing your PhD!).

For more about 3AI, check out their website: https://3ainstitute.cecs.anu.edu.au
Or check out their LinkedIn page: https://au.linkedin.com/company/anu-3a-institute


For me, the notion of always being acutely aware of where you are located in time and space is a powerful way of being and to me the ability to do that in Australia is a big thing. Part of why that is an important one to me is the, I’ve spent the last 30 years living in the United States. And that’s a place that also has history with Indigenous people and colonial forces. It also has existing Indigenous communities throughout the nation. And people don’t acknowledge that. And there’s never a notion of a Welcome to Country or an Acknowledgement of Country.

“The hierarchies were very different, so everyone had a cube…Because everyone had the same office, you couldn’t assume who people were on the basis of the first pass, right, so it imposed a kind of … levelling effect”

“In Silicon Valley…there is this idea that everything is possible. And you’re always looking forward and moving forward, right. And moving forward: try an idea and if it doesn’t work, pick up the next one, move on.”

“But the reality is, of course, you can’t pretend the past didn’t happen, and I think that would be my critique frequently of Silicon Valley as it’s an amazing capacity to erase history. And on the one hand that can be really liberating, on the other hand I think that’s definitely dangerous, cause you erase the lessons you learnt and you don’t remember that things have a history”

“So one of the things I think my time there taught me well and I am absurdly grateful for, was that it in some ways made me a much, I think a better anthropologist, and certainly a better scholar because I had to explain what I did to people who knew nothing about it. So you couldn’t rely on jargon, you couldn’t rely on shorthand. You couldn’t say, ‘well, you know, that would be what Bourdieu would have to say about it. Or let me tell you about Foucault’ … You couldn’t use any of that because they’d be like, ‘what?’ They didn’t do in text citations. They didn’t think that way. That was shorthand that made no sense to them. And it meant you actually had to be able to unpack your ideas and make them comprehensible to people who weren’t in your field.”

“Mum was really clear that you should always be working to make the world a better place. That you actually had a moral obligation to make the world better than the one you found it. And not for yourself but for others.”

Transcription of Ep #32 ‘Hula Hoops not Bicycles’: Genevieve Bell talks Anthropology, Technology & Building the Future

[00:00:00] Jodie-Lee Trembath: Hey, everyone. First off, we at The Familiar Strange want to acknowledge and celebrate the first Australians on whose traditional lands we are producing this podcast and pay our respects to the elders of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples' past, present, and emerging. Well, let's go.


Hello, and welcome to The Familiar Strange. I am Jodie-Lee Trembath, your familiar stranger today. Welcome to the podcast. Brought to you by support of the Australian Anthropological Society, The Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific, and the College of Arts and Social Sciences brought to you today from the Australian Centre for Public Awareness of Science and produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Now, I'm recording this introduction today on World Anthropology Day, and that's pretty exciting because it also is the perfect opportunity to be bringing you an interview with my anthropological idol, distinguished Professor, Genevieve Bell. This interview with Genevieve is the first in a special season at The Familiar Strange.

We are bringing you an STS season, which, for those of you who are not into that kind of thing, stands for Science and Technology Studies and it's the way that humans and science and technology all interact. It's bringing the human back into the science and technology. All of our interviews for this season, over the coming months will be along that kind of theme.

I'm super excited to be bringing you this interview with Genevieve because I have been following her work and idolizing her since long before she came to the Australian National University two years ago to be the distinguished professor in charge of creating a new applied science, which she is. We'll talk about that in the interview and it's fascinating. I've been following her for a long time from before that because she is also, and still is, a vice president at Intel and a senior fellow at Intel as well.

As an anthropologist in corporations and particularly in a futuristic corporation like Intel, I always found that really fascinating. We talked about this wide-ranging suite of topics. We talked about everything from fish burns that were technologies from 40,000 years ago in Indigenous communities through to semiconductors and the business of Intel, and we ambled about through anthropological theory as well as what fieldwork looks like in a corporation and it was really awesome, to be honest.

We straight off at one point into where Genevieve was giving me advice because I have just finished my PhD and she was asking me what am I going to do to celebrate and acknowledge that period in my life. That took us into this conversation about rituals and how important rituals are for progress. We always came back each and every time to what's important to humans, why it's important to humans, and how we can make sense of that to be able to really unpack the world that we live in. It is possibly my favorite interview with her, so here it is my interview with distinguished Professor, Genevieve Bell.


I want to start off with what may sound like a bit of a strange question. We start the podcast always with an acknowledgment of country. I've heard you talk before about how important that is to you and how great it's been coming back to Australia where that's more of a common thing to happen. Can you tell me a bit about that?

[00:03:51] Professor Genevieve Bell: Sure. It was interesting for me to reflect about the things that Australia does and doesn't export and I know it's odd to think of a ritual that way but the notion of acknowledging countries in some ways is an invented Australian ritual. We started out in 1988. It's part of the Bicentennial pieces of, in some ways, cultural apparatus that we built to think about who we were as a nation, but for me, I think there's something really powerful in getting to start all of our events and all of our activities with the moment of remembering where we are.

For me, the notion of always being acutely aware of where you are located in time and space is a powerful way of being, and for me, the ability to do that in Australia is a big thing. Part of why that is an important one to me is I spent the last 30 years living in the United States and that's a place that also has history with indigenous people and colonial forces.

It also has existing indigenous communities throughout the nation and people don't acknowledge that and there's never a notion of a welcome to a country or an acknowledgment of country and that is always striking for me both in its absence there and in its presence here. For me, these days I'm frequently talking about technology and the future and I think sometimes the way we do a welcome to country, it feels a little bit like we're talking about history but we're actually talking about a straight through-line.

When I think about what it means to acknowledge that we meet on the country here in this room on the Ngunnawal people, but in all the other countries that I've been in all the other places that I have stood, for me, the notion of remembering that this is a place that has had human occupation for a long time, 60,000 years, 80,000 years, 100,000 years, that date moves around a lot, but what I do know is that there have been people here making meaning, making culture, and making technology for longer than anywhere else on the planet.

When I want to talk about building the future, I like that I get to acknowledge that I'm doing it in the place that first built the future. We sit here in Canberra, you and I, so about an eight-hour drive from us up on the New South Wales border, there's a town called Brewarrina. That's a settler town. Right outside of Brewarrina, there's a river and in that river, there are nine fishways sometimes 10 or 11 depending on how you count them and they are stone infrastructures that were built, archaeologists think 40,000 years ago.

They were designed to change the movement of water in that river, change its height, change its speed, and ultimately designed to raise the level of the water such that the fish that were swimming in that river would get trapped in its fishway as and create a constant source of food. The fishway as those fish traps in Brewarrina that's 40,000 years ago. Someone created a technological intervention into the world in order to create the possibility of human culture. Every time I talk about the future in Australia, I like to remember that I'm standing in the place that has the oldest piece of human technologies still in existence.

[00:06:49] Jodie: I guess your mum is Diane Bell, who's an anthropologist of Indigenous Australia as well. Did you grow up with stories like that?

[00:06:58] Prof. Genevieve: I'm incredibly lucky. I grew up both on this campus here at the Australian National University, and then in a range of different Aboriginal communities in Central and Northern Australia. You're right, my mum is an anthropologist. Diane Bell, she did her work while starting in the 1970s through to the current day and worked with Indigenous people, mostly, in Australia a little bit in the US.

As a child, I lived in a bunch of different Aboriginal communities, and because I grew up here surrounded by anthropologists so in the anthropology departments at the ANU, I don't think I quite realized how unusual those conversations were but I listened to and watched people acknowledge their country, welcome other people onto their country, be welcomed onto other's country, and to call to the ancestors in all kinds of places.

I knew that that meant that the world we moved in was inhabited by other things and that those things should be appropriately acknowledged and recognized and that maybe that wasn't the world I lived in Melbourne or Canberra but it was the world around me all the time anyway.

[00:08:03] Jodie: I think in Australia, it's pretty common for children to rebel against their parent's occupations. Did you always just think, "I wanted to do what mum’s doing," or did you come back to this?

[00:08:16] Prof. Genevieve: No, I tried to rebel against my mother, and all the ways I can think of and she'd laugh about that because let's see, I think when I was 15, I joined a Christian youth group because how do you rebel against your anthropologist mum? Well, pierced my ears, that wasn't terribly helpful.

[00:08:32] Jodie: Although, now you can wear earrings?

[00:08:33] Prof. Genevieve: I could, but at the time, it was a kind of capitulation to patriarchy so that to have a good laugh about that. How do you do that? Complicated, really. No, I don't think it was a rebellion against either of my parents. Mom's an anthropologist but my dad, and both of my grandfathers on the engineering side, like dad is an engineer, and both of my grandfather's were in that field.

I think of it more as I was raised with a certain way of being in the world and a certain set of questions and always wanting to ask why is it like that, and those questions are most comfortably answered in a certain set of disciplines, so I didn't stay in Australia for my education. I finished high school here in Australia, here in Canberra, in fact, spent a couple of years in the public service, and then decided if I didn't get out of Australia, I might just die in a kind of it all felt terribly, terribly small and I wanted to go somewhere so big that I could hide.

I took myself to America. I was lucky enough to win a scholarship. I went to an American university, and in some ways, I fell into anthropology there entirely by accident. It wasn't by design. When I was in my early 20s, when I started university, I thought that one day I'd be a politician. I thought that that's how you enacted meaningful change in the world.

I thought that the most important thing you could do as a human being was make the world a better place than you found it and when I was much younger and we're talking the '80s just to be really clear, I still believe that politics was a way to drive structural change and I thought I was going to America for an undergraduate degree and I was going to come back and I thought one day I'd be prime minister.

[00:10:06] Jordie: It still could happen, we could change any moment now.

[00:10:08] Prof. Genevieve: That's true. I recognize that leadership skills in Australia have become a bit a recreational spectator sport, but I also reckon we've had our first female redheaded prime minister.

[00:10:18] Jordie: You can start a trend. You can [crosstalk].

[00:10:21] Prof. Genevieve: I think I'm good. It turned out I might have taken anthropology initially because it was a requirement of the degree but it turned out I loved it. It was a familiar language and it was a point of view and I think a way of seeing and being in the world, that's always been attractive to me. I think in some ways it was a way of theorizing living in the United States where I was always a bit of an outsider. I think 30 years in America was a very protracted participant observation experience.

[00:10:50] Jordie: Yes. I wanted to ask you about that not only were you an Australian in America, but you were also an anthropologist in Silicon Valley, was it really like being on constant participant observation?

[00:11:03] Prof. Genevieve: Well, I used to joke, still do in fact, that as much an anthropologist for Intel, which is where I spent the last 20 years working as I was an anthropologist of Intel. One of the first times my colleagues cottoned onto the fact that I might have been thinking about them like a field site [laughs] or that it was hard not to think of them as a field site is probably a better way of putting it.

They asked me, "If you were to write an anthropology of us," like an ethnography. They're like, "Yes, okay." "If you were to write an ethnography of us, what would be in it?" I'm like, "Oh, can we go old school?" You'd practice radical endogamy, you have patrilineal descent principles. You have clear rights of passage and age-based expectations and I reckon you've got some sacred sites.

Also you have some really interesting ritual activities and I'm fairly certain, you're a moiety system transitioning into totems without appropriate activity. There’s this dead silence. And they went, "Huh." I had to go back and go, okay. Endogamy and exogamy are historical ways of thinking about marriage systems. Does your traditional culture get wives from inside the system or outside the system? Exogamous for outside, endogamous for inside, and they're practiced differently in different parts of the world.

They looked at me and said, "We don't have wives." I went, "No, but all your ideas come from inside. So you're kind of endogamous like you curate everything internally and you keep it." They're like, "Yes, that's excellent." I'm like, "No, not necessarily." They went, "What's the next bit?" I said, "Well, you have patrilineal descent principles." They said, "How do you know that?" I said, "Because you always ask who's the daddy of that idea." Which they did. It was like, who's the daddy is a question that gets asked inside that.

[00:12:41] Jordie: Literally, that language.

[00:12:42] Prof. Genevieve: Oh, literally, they don't do it anymore but they'd say, "What's he the daddy for?" They don't anymore. It was a place when you announced where you came from, you talked about who your first hiring manager was and who your first big boss was and they were all blokes. It was clearly a place that had these age-related rights of passage. You only achieved personhood after you've been there for a certain amount of years. They'd say to you, "Oh, you're still a newbie, you haven't been here till your first sabbatical." I'm like, "I've been here six years." They're like, "Still new." I laid that out for them.

Then I told them that it was clear that they had sacred sites so this was very clear, there were sites that were incredibly important and if you weren't in one of those places, they didn't listen to you. They had all of these rituals. None of which they would've thought about them, but a whole seasonal round of the things that happened in the spring, in the summer, in the fall, things that had to happen in a particular sequence. They'd once been a moiety transitioning to totems.

For those of you who aren't deeply steeped in old-school anthropology, moiety systems are in the kinship world of ones where you have the world divides into two moieties. The Hopi like this, they have the winter and the summer people, lots of other groups are like this. At Intel, there was the factory people and the business people. I was arguing that they used to be a moiety. You needed both to get things done, but they were a very separate world. When I was there, they were transitioning into lots of different groups. More like a clan system or a totemic system, but they hadn't built the new rituals on top of it.

I laid all this out to a room full of engineers, physicists, chemists with diagrams. They looked at me and went, "Huh, okay." To their credit they were like, "That's interesting. What do we think you should do with that?" I'm like, "Here are some of your challenges." You're about to bring in a whole new leadership cohort at the senior level, but you have patrilineal descent principles and radical endogamy. You're going to need to give these people that you're bringing in daddies effectively in order to integrate them.

You're going to need to bypass all these rights of passage because they're not going to be here long enough to be grown up. What are the rituals you're going to create to integrate them at a senior level and give them a narrative? They went, "Oh, that's actually really helpful." They thought about how to do an onboarding process completely differently. It was hard not to be an anthropologist and see it through that lens, but I was also an employee of a company and it was a place where many things about the culture were incredibly liberating by comparison to the academy at the same time period.

[00:14:54] Jordie: In what ways?

[00:14:55] Prof. Genevieve: It was one of the very first tech companies in Silicon Valley, it started in 1968. The guys who founded it, they weren't traditional founders they were on their third company by the time they got to this one, so they were already in their early 30s. They were really interested in creating a company that didn't feel like the top-down hierarchy from the east coast where they'd all come from or the companies that they'd been in.

They were clear from the get-go that everyone should have shares in the company. Everyone should have the same office size, so everyone had a cube, no one had an office. And that you should be able to ask questions of anyone in the company. If you thought that there was a better way of doing it, you should be able to say it without fear or favor. They created a series of practices around that stuff. When I got there 30 years in, what was really interesting was it was a place where you could challenge 60,000 people when I started.

You could challenge the CEO in public so long as you thought you had data to back your point of view. It was true, and there was no blowback for it.

It's like if you went, and I will admit, I've probably had a couple of run-ins with CEOs of the company over the many years where I just say, "You're wrong," and they don't just look at me, I'm like, "Because of this, this, this, this, and this." And they'd go, "Right, fine." There was never a moment where I was penalized afterwards. Partly, it was in its best days, you could speak truth to power without consequence and it didn't matter if you were more or equivalent of a lowly graduate student or a clerk, class one in the public service, you could argue with the senior leaders so long as you had data to back your point of view.

That was a really interesting thing for me and it was liberating that the hierarchies were very different so everyone had a cube. For me, one of the things that was fascinating about it was that because everyone had the same office, you couldn't assume who people were on the basis of the first pass. It imposed an interesting, not exactly meritocracy, but an interesting leveling effect.

The second thing about it that was fascinating was that it meant that you were always listening to ambient stuff, which is a mixed blessing. It was hard to concentrate on certain kinds of things, but you always knew it was going on and it felt very alive. It's funny, I've been back in the university sector for two years now. Some of it has been the loneliest experience of my life. You have an office.

[00:16:57] Jordie: With a door.

[00:16:58] Prof. Genevieve: With the door. Even if you have the door open, people aren't necessarily socialised to come into it. It's a weird trade-off. To this day, I see a cube farm, which is what they're called. I do this moment of going, "Ugh, a little bit of my soul dies." But the interesting piece about it was that it made for very different possibilities of engagements with people. I learned a tremendous amount from people around me who were not in my disciplines or in universities who weren't in your departments.

These floors were never organised by departments. They're often organised by business unit or by function and sometimes by none of those things. In my last office space, I was surrounded by people from finance, legal, a planning unit, some people from my own team. If you didn't understand things, there was frequently someone there who'd tell you stuff. Also, there was just a lot of other conversation going on. It was, not accidental interdisciplinary, it's not the right word for it, but it was hard to--

[00:17:55] Jordie: Serendipitous.

[00:17:56] Prof. Genevieve: Yes. It was hard to escape the fact that there were a lot of conversations going on.

[00:17:59] Jordie: I've heard you talk in other places about the speed as well.

[00:18:03] Prof. Genevieve: That I miss. I was having a conversation with someone this morning about the difference between scale and speed and how we sometimes conflate those when we talk about building things. One of the really interesting differences between Australia and the US, particularly the university sectors in both countries, but between Australian industry and American industry or between Australian culture and Silicon Valley bearing in mind that those are hardly equal things. There's a lot of caveats there. I'm still an anthropologist, I don't want to be too certain about it.

There is this interesting way where certainly in Silicon Valley and it's a distillation of a particular American ideology. There is this idea that everything is possible and you're always looking forward and moving forward. Moving forward, try an idea if it doesn't work, pick up the next one, move on. That can be extraordinarily liberating. God, it's remarkable. Like just the notion of, well that didn't work, no harm, no fail. Just go do something else and see what happens next. It's utterly unencumbered by a sense of history.

Now that's a mixed blessing. There's something quite wonderful about being unencumbered by the past. One of Intel's founders, a man named Bob Noyce used to say, "Don't be encumbered by the past. Go and build something wonderful," which is a lovely line. The reality is, of course, you can't pretend the past didn't happen and I think that would be my critique frequently of Silicon Valley, is it's an amazing capacity to erase history. On the one hand, that can be really liberating. On the other hand, I think that's definitely dangerous because you erase the lessons you learnt and you don't member that things have a history and those histories are actually always really important for who's in them and the lessons they learned and the pieces that you're not honoring of all of that.

The flip side of that would be the Australian piece where I sometimes think we are endlessly shadow boxing with a past we can't let go off. You heard me start by saying, I think we need to acknowledge where we've come from. I think there's a difference between acknowledging it and having this weird fight with it where you never quite work at what a functional relationship should be, and certainly when it comes to thinking about building new ideas, the kind of pushback that you'll sometimes get in Australia, "Well, we already tried that." Or, "Well, no one's gonna think that's a good idea," or, "We can't do it here," is this really interesting, new thing.

It's not what I remember from when I left here. When it was still, "Oh, just have a go and see what happens." We seemed to have replaced that with a very strange form of cultural anxieties about trying new things. All of those are crass generalizations, but for me, at least, one of the really powerful things about spending time in Silicon Valley in the US was this notion of it was okay to move quickly, it was okay to try new things, it was okay if those things didn't work. You just picked yourself up and did a different thing, and you've got to think about things at scale, so the notion that it was okay to have gloriously large ambitions.

I was back in San Francisco recently standing on a stage for Wired magazine. One of the big American magazines was celebrating its 25th birthday. It's a magazine intimately associated with the tech sector, and of telling the stories of technology, and we could argue it was an apologist for those stories, but it's had a glorious history of telling the stories of the tech sector. I'd gotten invited to be there, which was a big deal, a privilege, and kind of a little bit daunting.

I realised as I was standing on the stage that I was talking about the work I'm doing here, and I was talking about it with an unabashed ambition for the work that I almost never do here because here it feels almost embarrassing to have that degree of enthusiasm for something. There, it's perfectly acceptable and indeed normal. I had a moment of cultural dislocation of thinking, "That's a tone I don't use at home very often."

[00:21:46] Jodie: Obviously, you are an anthropologist for Intel, as you said. What does that mean? What does that look like on a day-to-day basis?

[00:21:54] Prof. Genevieve: Different things over a protracted period of time. I'm still on the payroll at Intel. I've spent 20 years there. When I first joined Intel, Intel was a company thinking about microprocessors. It was interested in how did you think about where computers were going, so they built integrated circuits, basically semiconductors. In order to build those, that's a 10-year lifecycle, so it takes 10 years from the moment you start thinking about it to the time the thing is finished.

In the early days, you need to be what they would call pathfinding or exploring, and thinking about what will the world look like in 10 years' time because, in order to make semiconductors well, you need to be anticipating what are the devices that they will sit inside and what is the computational work that we'll be doing. You can anticipate some of that from a technical side, but you also need to be thinking about what will humans be trying to do.

Part of the job of people like me in companies like that is to talk a little bit about what the future will be, but when I first got there, so we're talking 1998, the job was really just to start giving the engineers a way of talking about humans because they hadn't had to think about them up until then. They'd mostly been thinking about technical systems. In the early days, it was a job that looked remarkably like the job I'd left at the university. I spent a lot of time teaching, I spent a lot of time talking about culture to people who were like, "What?" The difference was I couldn't give them a ‘D’ because they hadn't done the reading. And they didn't do homework terribly effectively, but it was remarkable.

[00:23:10] Jodie: How inconvenient. [chuckles]

[00:23:11] Prof. Genevieve: I know. It was remarkably like being an academic in that sense. We did a lot of fieldwork in the early days that would have been recognisable to most people who are anthropologists. We went and spent time in different places in the world and spent time with people in the places they made meaning in their lives. We did deep hanging out. We did classic participant observation, and in different places on different projects with different kind of areas of preoccupations.

It felt, in some ways, remarkably like the job of an anthropologist. I have field notebooks and troves of photos and tapes, and digital recordings, and piles of clippings, and cultural materiality, and all that sort of stuff, and then I came back and tried to make sense of it for a different audience. Then the differences were we didn't have to write grants, so that was a delightful thing. We wrote our own ethics and human subject protocol so that we had those. We now have much more serious ones which we should have, and we did all the things that you do in that way. I thought of it as being a very logical extension of what anthropology did.

The job of an anthropologist is to attempt to make sense of and give structure and voice to people whose voices will not otherwise be in whatever conversation you find yourself in, and we did that work. We were bringing the voices of people that didn't get inside the building, inside the building and making them count. I took that as an incredible responsibility, that you should give those voices weight and dignity and power. We tried to do that as best we could, but that meant my day-to-day existence was varied. It could be I went to a lot of meetings because I was in a big organization. Most of my colleagues on the faculty here at the ANU would recognise that.

It's like, "What did you do then?" "I went to another meeting." You're like, "Okay. Was it a good meeting?" You're like, "No, not specially." I went to a lot of meetings, I answered a lot of email, I wrote a lot of email, and then in between that, I scoped out fieldwork and went and did fieldwork. Hung out in the field, and then I came back and told a lot of stories of the fieldwork to people who went, "What should we do with that?"

In some ways, it would sound deeply familiar to people. In other ways, I'm sure, it would feel deeply unfamiliar because it wasn't in the context of a department where you talk to people who shared your same skills. One of the things I think my time there taught me well, and I am absurdly grateful for, was that it in some ways made me a better anthropologist and certainly a better scholar because I had to explain what I did to people who knew nothing about it. You couldn't rely on jargon. You couldn't rely on shorthand. You couldn't say, "Well, that would be what Bourdieu would have to say about it", or, "Let me tell you about Foucault. Let me give you a little bit of Homi Bhabha, and [unintelligible 00:25:50]"

You couldn't use any of that because they'd be like, "What?" They didn't do in-text citations. They didn't think that way. That was shorthand that made no sense to them, and it meant you actually had to be able to unpack your ideas and make them comprehensible to people who weren't in your field. Actually, I think that's work we should all be much better at than we are, and I think it gave my field and in the field of a number of my colleagues much more reach because we learned to talk about it to non-practitioners. We had to have it make sense to people who weren't in our world.

Learning to talk about anthropological insights, learning to talk about anthropological methods, learning to talk about theory to people who were educated but not in my field was a tremendous challenge, but it was a good learning experience. Is that it's really, in some ways, easy to talk to people who are just like you, but the power is in not doing that. For me, I go back and think about the early founders of anthropology in Britain, in Australia, in the US, and all of them thought that anthropology was always and already an intervention. That it was itself a political act, not in the sense of being political, but in the sense of it had a politic.

That you were always in the business of saying the world is another way than the way you see it. Or there is another way of seeing the world than the way you see it. Or there's this other way of seeing the world and you should hear and see it and make sense of it. If that was the case, I always thought that meant that there should be anthropologists everywhere. We shouldn't just be in universities, and we shouldn't just be writing papers for each other in journals that we only read. That in fact, we had a disciplinary obligation to engage more broadly and to bring that ability to make sense of things to a wider array of places and spaces, but that's hard work.


[00:27:57] Jodie: You mentioned that part of your job was to be able to look 10 years ahead to work out what the semiconductors we're going to be able to be used for, I guess. How does an anthropologist do predictive work?

[00:28:11] Prof. Genevieve: You see, that is if you imagine you need to predict the future.

[00:28:15] Jodie: But you don't.

[00:28:17] Prof. Genevieve: Listen, I think one of the things about the future is that it is an extension of the present and the past, and one of the things that technologists like to imagine is the technology moves really fast, and so does everything else. The reality is the things that people care about, that moves slowly. Pre climate change glacially slowly in many cases, and the things we care about in a society, in a culture, in a place, those tend to move really slowly, and that if you can identify the things that preoccupy people, and the ways that they change, you're not predicting where they are going. You are merely making sense of what they are and knowing that where they've come from and where they are, and where they are going tends to be more continuous than discontinuous.

I mean, I sometimes get described as a futurist. I've never thought of myself that way. I've always thought of myself as an anthropologist who has had the luxury of taking a more expansive view. I was trained in ethnohistory at Stanford, so I know how to think about the history of culture and the history of cultural moments. I know how to think exquisitely about the present, and it turns out thinking about the future is really an extension of those things. I'd never want to be the one talking about what the world's going to be like 50 years from now, but 10 years from now, it's not so difficult.

There are usually lines that are clear, and threads that you can pull. By the same token, I've often thought that the place that was most useful for me to provide input in those spaces was to say, what you have to understand is that the future is composed of things. It's composed of what's technically possible, what regulation and standards bodies will allow, what economics will endure, and what people and cultural practices and societies will find acceptable and that it's never just about saying, "Well this is what culture wants," because we know that culture's already itself got many constituent pieces that are moving in competition with each other.

For me, it was never about saying, "Here is the future." Capital T, capital F, but here it is. "The Future," in a nice little box with a bow on top. "Yaay, the future." It was always about going, "I know about three or four different ways this could play out, here are the most important pieces we should be tracking, here are the things that seem to be the most complicated because they haven't resolved yet."

I think one of the interventions my team and I brought into the conversation was to say, "Listen, there are some cultural forces, the nature of which and the directionality of which is less clear than they first appear." One of the things I used to be able to do quite usefully was to say, "Listen, some of these things we talk about it like it's going to be like that forever, but the reality is, that's a moving thing."

Our relationship to privacy, for instance, would be an obvious one-- God, it's seven years ago now, can't be true. I think it is. That Mark Zuckerberg said, "The privacy genie is out of the bottle and no one cares about privacy anymore." He did, he said it and everyone went, "Yes, that's absolutely true, no one cares about privacy at all."

[00:31:13] Jodie: Really?

[00:31:13] Prof. Genevieve: "Those millennials, they don't care about privacy at all." I'm sitting there going, "Oh, I don't think that's true." Everyone went around for a bit, banging on about how no one cared about privacy. My team and I sat there going, "Mm." Right at this moment in time, it may be the case that people are enacting a set of privacy practices that suggest they don't care. It is unlikely this will endure. [chuckles]

If you think today privacy A is a thing we're all talking about a whole lot of new practices have emerged that look completely different than what was going on five years ago. I think you'd be hard-pressed to say that millennials don't care about privacy. I think you'd say they think about it differently than their parents and their grandparents, but they do care about it, and they are enacting an entire set of practices based on what suite of technologies they're using, what content they share, and with whom. They've opted out of Facebook and onto a series of ephemeral digital media like Snapchat and Instagram. They are controlling-- there's a lot of nodding going on here just in case you wonder, dear listeners.

[00:32:07] Jodie: Yes, so much nodding.

[00:32:08] Prof. Genevieve: So much nodding. Seven years ago, the talk around Silicon Valley was that privacy was dead. Literally, that was the language. Privacy is dead. No one cares everyone is done.

[00:32:18] Jodie: Mark Zuckerberg’s younger than me, I think?

[00:32:21] Prof. Genevieve: He care's tremendously about privacy now.

[00:32:23] Jodie: Yes, I'll bet.

[00:32:23] Prof. Genevieve: So do lots of other people, right? What was interesting was that one of the things I think anthropology is useful for is being able to say, "Is this a fad or a fact?" Like is this a moment we're going through or is this the way things are going? One of the things we are particularly good, I think, at identifying at a cultural level is where are the points of tension and negotiation and contestation that may never resolve?

The engineers like to imagine that privacy was a zero or a one. You either have it or you don't. You're done with it or you're a zealot. That was the language. We were sitting there going, "Listen, people are going to negotiate this differently depending on where they are in their life stages, what platforms they're on, what's going on around them. There'll be a whole series of places where this continues to be contested territory because at one level it has been ever thus."

It was a bit of sort of saying, "Can you identify the places that stay in flux?" Because those are also interesting and so when thinking about predicting the future, sometimes it's not about predicting the future state, it's about predicting the future argument, or the future conflict or the future, I think in the language of anthropology, contestational negotiation. Can you find the places where those things won't stabilize? Because they are also interesting and useful to articulate and know. Imagine there was a moment in time not that long ago where people thought privacy was dead.

[00:33:41] Jodie: Yes, that's fascinating and I mean, gosh, what a slap in the face for Mark Zuckerberg with the whole Cambridge Analytica drama last year.

[00:33:47] Prof. Genevieve: Oh, and he's not the only one. There were people across the entire of Silicon Valley who had declared that privacy was dead and who used to say things like, "Well, I don't have anything to hide," and you're like, "Oh good lord, that's not the point." Just this whole kind of language that suggested that, basically, the moment that was-- we're talking early, early, early Facebook and early Instagram where people posting pictures of everything and posting everything and there was a sense that that was somehow where everything was going as opposed to saying, "This is a moment in time, this is hula-hoops, not bicycles."

I think knowing the difference between those things is always kind of important. It's easy to be seduced into thinking that's what it is because hula-hoops are everywhere, hula-hoops are going to be everywhere in perpetuity as opposed to saying, "Listen, the thing about hula-hoops was that what they prove is global supply chain and also the importance of advertising and cross-platform placement because they put them in movies and musicals." What it pointed to was the capacity of making a global object of desire. They didn't point to the fact that we'd all still be using hula-hoops every year from there on in.

[00:34:46] Jodie: Yes, and I think perhaps Pokemon Go is a good example.

[00:34:50] Prof. Genevieve: It would be another classic example of something that's-- it as an object is less interesting than what it indexes. As an anthropologist, we would say, "Pokemon Go is indexical," as in it points to a whole series of phenomena, it is not the phenomenon itself. Don't be distracted by the happy things you can capture on your cell phone with a little ball. What you should be thinking is, [scoffs] "What is a phenomenon that circles the globe in a month and preoccupies everyone's bandwidth say?" Does it say that Pokemon Go is the thing we'll all still be doing? The answer was no. [chuckles]

Does it say that the install base of mobile and smartphones is now global enough that you could have a phenomenon that would circle the globe almost instantly because it was downloadable on every platform? Yes. Does it also say that people were having a moment where so much of the way they use technology felt deeply instrumentalist, that something that was full of whimsy and a little bit of playfulness was significant? Yes. Does it also suggest that you can move an idea and an activity around the planet really quickly? It does. What's more interesting about Pokemon Go is not what it was but what it signaled. The question would be what will be the next thing that's like that? What will be the thing that proves that that was a bicycle, not a hula-hoop?

[00:36:04] Jodie: Okay, so let's take it back for a moment then to what you were talking about before about Australia and America. Oh, no--

[00:36:12] Prof. Genevieve: Let's go, we can. No, that was okay, I'm not an anthropologist to either one of those but we can give it a whirl.

[00:36:17] Jodie: No it's more-- I guess the question's more along the lines of-- I see a lot of-- I'm just about to finish my thesis, so I'm on the job market. [crosstalk] Thanks--

[00:36:28] Prof. Genevieve: That was the look of the, "I'd love to be finished with my dissert, but I'm in this room talking to you."

[00:36:32] Jodie: No, it was like, "Just kill me, really." [Chuckles]

[00:36:35] Prof. Genevieve: So listen, my piece of advice here is you know when you are ready to be done when you just can't imagine writing anything more about it and you think the thing you once loved more than anything else and you wanted to tell everyone about all the time now bores you senseless, it is a good time to be done.

[00:36:49] Jodie: Oh good, so I must be ready to be done, that's great.

[00:36:51] Prof. Genevieve: Well, that's exactly right. That's when you've gone from a state of grace to, "I hate this, I never want to hear it again," then you are so ready to be done. It's a really good moment.

[00:37:00] Jodie: Okay. That's actually really encouraging.

[00:37:02] Prof. Genevieve: Oh yes, you'll almost be finished then.

[00:37:04] Jodie: I'm literally going to, hopefully, submit my draft to my supervisors tomorrow or so.


[00:37:09] Prof. Genevieve: That's very exciting. What are you going to do to mark that occasion?

[00:37:13] Jodie: Well, I'm going to celebrate my husband's birthday, because it's his birthday tomorrow. [laughs]

[00:37:17] Prof. Genevieve: That's very nice, thanks, but what is the -- [crosstalk] That's good, well deflected, what's it that you’re going to do for yourself to acknowledge that you've done that bit?

[00:37:23] Jodie: [laughs] That's a good question. I spend a lot of time telling other people that they ought to celebrate their big moments, so this is just an indication that I don't put my money where my mouth is. I'll get on that, I will. I will think about that as soon as I submit it.

[00:37:38] Prof. Genevieve: I think one of the things we're not good at, academics, it's only my experience at the academy thus far in the last 18-month cycle, is because there's always another thing due and another deadline and another activity. We don't seem good at taking a moment to acknowledge the accomplishment that's happened and more to the point internalise what it means. The fact that you have got a complete draft means you've completed an idea. It means you took something from a thought through all the research that takes to make it real, to being articulated, and to complete an idea that has a beginning, a middle, and an end and probably a bibliography.

[00:38:17] Jodie: [chuckles] It will by tomorrow.

[00:38:18] Prof. Genevieve: Of course, it will. Well done you. Yes, the dates in the bibliography will match the books themselves which is always even better.

[00:38:24] Jodie: Totally. Totally will.


[00:38:26] Prof. Genevieve: Even before someone ever reads it, even before a supervisor or a committee says, "You did good." There's a bit about having done all that that says something about you and about what you can accomplish. I think there's a bit about creating the space and this is going to sound like I've spent too long in America, but creating the space to acknowledge that, that makes you different than the woman who started that and the person that commenced that process. That you actually know how to do that now, because here's the thing they'll never tell you, you've done it once in terms of doing it the second time it's so much easier.

My doctoral dissertation is about Native American ethnohistory with a specialty in critical and post-colonial theory. Yes, okay, I spent 20 years in the industry studying tech. It turned out the second set of expertise in order to do that. Once I'd done the first one, much easier to do the second.

[00:39:09] Jodie: Interesting, so you found it genuinely transferable?

[00:39:11] Prof. Genevieve: From an idea to its instantiation. Once you know how to do that once, you can do it for anything. That's actually for me the power of critical thinking. The difference between an undergraduate degree and a post-graduate degree is about your ability to do that with rigor and at scale, knowing the difference between summarizing someone else's opinion and creating the place for your own opinion in that landscape. Once you know how to do that once, you can do it again and you get to do it with something equally interesting next time. It turns out you know how to do that, so well done you.

Even before someone says to you, "You know this book that you've mentioned on Page 72 it's not in the bibliography, also I don't agree with what you did on Page 150, and why is that in a footnote and not in the text, also why haven't you cited this person?" Before all of that happens, which it will.

[00:39:59] Jodie: It will.

[00:40:00] Prof. Genevieve: Of course, it will because that's how we go. There is a moment where you get to think to yourself, "I did that." Knowing that you can do that is a piece of what you now are as an intellectual you'll always get to own. They never get to take that away from you. Thinking about what the ritual is for that, and it's not celebrating your husband's birthday, I hate to tell you, but that is a nice thing to do as a human being and entirely necessary. The bit about what do you do to acknowledge how much more you can do than when you started is how you also learn to position yourself for the next conversation.

[00:40:29] Jodie: That's very true. I think you're going to make me cry.

[00:40:31] Prof. Genevieve: Not on purpose.

[00:40:33] Jodie: I don't believe you.

[00:40:35] Prof. Genevieve: No, that's going to definitely make you cry, no other ways of doing it. But I'm acutely aware of it in my own history, of the moments where I had to say, "I can now do a very different thing than I used to be able to do." And being able to find a way of materializing that, short of putting tattoos on your body that went, "Oh, your dissertation won, Okay, good. Critical theory, check."

[00:40:53] Jodie: I have actually done that.

[00:40:54] Prof. Genevieve: Listen, I really thought about it. I had this whole moment when I finished my doctorate of going, "What am I going to physically put on my body? Because it feels this was an embodied experience," because I wrote my dissertation when the Hale-Bopp Comet went across the sky because I had nothing else so I needed to write it and it was contained with the comet traversing the entirety of the American night sky over it.

[00:41:15] Jodie: What a beautiful symbol.

[00:41:17] Prof. Genevieve: No, it was just that I needed a deadline. I was at the point where I was like, "I must stop talking about this because I've become insane." But I did contemplate, "How do you mark on your body the acquisition of knowledge?" Because it felt like it was that way. I fully get that impulse too. Haven't done that, but get it.

[00:41:36] Jodie: Well, I guess this--

[00:41:38] Prof. Genevieve: There's a challenge, young lady. What are you going to do? Turn it in. What are you going to do? You don't have to answer.

[00:41:46] Jodie: No.

[00:41:46] Prof. Genevieve: Or right now, but you do need to think about it.

[00:41:48] Jodie: But I do need to think about it. You're absolutely right. I will think about it. Let's talk about 3A.


[00:41:54] Prof. Genevieve: Good pivot.

[00:41:56] Jodie: Yes. Did you like that? I thought that was--

[00:41:56] Prof. Genevieve: What they teach you with media is how to get out of a conversation you don't want to be in. It's like, "Oh, let's talk it about in a very cheery tone. Well done." Let's talk about the 3A. The best way to ask that question is, "You came home to Australia. Why'd you do that?" Because that's usually how that question is framed. It's true. Listen, here's the thing and that's how you can tell I've been home for 18 months, I start a sentence with, "So listen."

[00:42:19] Jodie: "Here's the thing."

[00:42:20] Prof. Genevieve: "Here's the thing." "So listen." Complete Australian bridging sentence, "Yeah-Nah. Yeah-Nah." For those of you who are listening from not in Australia, we have this really interesting formulation of a linguistic tick, which is the, "Yeah-Nah, Nah-yeah." Where you go, "Yeah-Nah," and you're like, "What does that mean?" And that could mean an assent or a disagreement depending on the context.

[00:42:38] Jodie: You got to be able to hear the tone.

[00:42:40] Prof. Genevieve: Yeah-Nah, exactly. I came back to Australia because I thought there was a piece of work that needed to get done and I'm lucky enough to be old enough and far enough along in my career that I could make a decision about, did I want a job or did I want a mission? For want of putting it a better way. My mum who we were talking about earlier, mum was really clear that, "You should always be working to make the world a better place," that you actually had a moral obligation to make the world better than the one you found, and not for yourself, but for others.

I know that sounds at one level deeply naive, but I was raised with that idea. In some ways, it's an idea of service, in some ways, it's an idea that says, "If you have privilege, you should be putting it to good use and not for yourself, but for others." I've always used that as a way of thinking about where to locate my career and what choices I made inside of it.

About two years ago, I was at a moment of wondering what I should do next and what the right place to spend my energy was and I was acutely aware that there was a set of transformations going on in the tech sector and in our lives that were about this move from computing as being about devices and apps and services to computing as being about this collection and aggregation of data and that the data was the beginning of a significant change in the work that computers would do and that the more data you had--

I get a lot of corrections about that one, the more that data gave you the power to build computation on top of it and that the more data you had, the easier it was to get to systems that had some sort of artificial intelligence. I was interested not in AI or artificial intelligence itself, but about what happened when it went to scale. The best historic analogy I can make is that for me, the AI that is in every newspaper and every magazine and on the lips that people who talk about and around you, that AI is like the steam engine and I wanted to know when it became the train, I was interested in the railway.

What happens when it stops being a singular thing, stationery atop a coal mine in Cornwall, and it becomes a transportation system that moves goods and services and people's own ideas? For me, that difference between a computational object and a computational system at scale, I thought that required a different way of thinking. When the vice-chancellor here at the Australian National University and the dean of engineering and computer science approached me and asked me to come home, I initially said no to them because I wasn't ready, and I couldn't see what the job was. I didn't really want to be a professor. I still really don't. I just wanted to do something that mattered and the job they kept offering me wasn't that.

We finally had a really interesting conversation, and it became clear that there was room to do something crazy. So, I said to both the vice-chancellor and to the dean that I thought this metaphoric railway, this AI at scale, required a different way of thinking and that I thought that different way of thinking rose to the level of a new applied science or a new branch of engineering.

You remember when I said earlier that I stood on stage in America in San Francisco, and I said, "I want to build a new applied science." And that felt not only perfectly normal but utterly acceptable. It never feels acceptable here, but that's what I'm doing. The 3A Institute, which sits here at the Australian National University, and you can find us on the internet, the interwebs, which would be http://www.3ainstitute.org. You can find us there.

[00:46:01] Jodie: We'll put that in the show notes.

[00:46:02] Prof. Genevieve: Exactly. Thank you very much. That institute has as its singular mission to build a new applied science to take AI safely to scale and that means we're trying to do three things. Build a new body of knowledge, find a community of people who care about it so I stop sounding like a demented cult leader, and--

[00:46:19] Jodie: Why would you want to stop that though?

[00:46:20] Prof. Genevieve: Oh, because it's horrible, and find ways to share and transmit that knowledge beyond university degree programs because I think they're necessary, but not sufficient. For us, there are a couple of current challenges. Number one, I don't know what this new branch of engineering is called. At the moment, the Institute has the very unwieldy title of the Autonomy Agency and Assurance Innovation Institute, otherwise, known as the 3AI because I didn't know what the discipline was called, but I knew the first three questions you had to ask about what happened when AI went to scale was, "Would it be autonomous? Would it have agency and how would we assure it." I subsequently, because that's the problem when you name things early, worked out there were two more questions, which is, "How would we measure it? What are its metrics and what on the earth were its interfaces?" Which would make it [unintelligible 00:47:06] and that's not a good acronym.

[00:47:09] Jodie: It's not really [crosstalk].

[00:47:10] Prof. Genevieve: No. It's still the 3A Institute. Really, that's what we're doing, is I've figured we needed a new applied science and I thought I could do it. Now, there is a connection to anthropology. Want to know what it is?

[00:47:21] Jodie: I sure do.

[00:47:22] Prof. Genevieve: It's a good one. There was a mathematician named Norbert Weiner back in 1946, 1947. He organized a series of conferences called the Macy's Conferences of Cybernetics and cybernetics was a term he coined. For him, cybernetics meant a dynamic system that included technology, nature, and human beings. A technical system that included biology, humans, and technology, or more to the point a system that included, in his mind, computation, the environment, and humans, and in '46, that is a radical proposition.

[00:48:00] Jodie: It's radical now.

[00:48:01] Prof. Genevieve: Well, what's interesting is in '46, that was his proposition and so he decided to curate these conferences and he reached out to someone he had met to help him curate them.

[00:48:09] Jodie: Who was an anthropologist.

[00:48:10] Prof. Genevieve: It was Margaret Mead. It wasn't just any anthropologist; it was Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.

[00:48:14] Jodie: That's an awesome story.

[00:48:16] Prof. Genevieve: Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead and Norbert Weiner and John Von Neumann and a whole lot of other people gathered. McCullick-- Oh God, who else is on the list? It's this list where you just look at it [unintelligible 00:48:26] the head of the man who found DARPA. Basically, the guy who created the ENIAC, the first computer, the guy who would found DARPA, the guy who would do mind control of the CIA, [unintelligible], Mead and Bateson and Norbert, and a bunch of other people, and over a six-year period, or seven-year period, they have nine conferences to talk about this cybernetics thing that they are trying to curate.

They are wide-ranging conversations, they include conversations about culture and about human societies and about animals and about Freudian psychology and about technical constraints and about feedback loops and I'm like, "Just they are wow, they're great." And then it went a bit far and for a bunch of people, they thought that Norbert was probably a little bit too close to running the edge of socialism in the '50s in America, not a good look.

Those conversations get shut down but the piece of work they did around imagining what would technical systems look like that had a human capacity to them, goes from that conference to the 1956 conference at Dartmouth that creates the phrase artificial intelligence and makes the AI agenda, but it strips out the human and the biological piece. The piece for me that's interesting is about what it would be to put those back. I actually think that Norbert was right in '46, that in fact, the future is about how do we create systems that encompass the technical world, the biological world, and the human world and how we bring those things together.

I think while cybernetics is a term that's done a few rounds and has a lot of history cleaving back to its original piece is actually really useful. For me, the notion that there was a moment in time where all of those emergent disciplines stood together and tried to create a conversation is powerful. There is a lovely article that Stewart Brand, so the progenitor of the WELL, so one of the first websites. The guy who wrote The Whole Earth Catalog, the guy who wrote, How Buildings Learn, a head of the Long Now Foundation, and the man who held the camera on the other end of the mother of all demos in 1968.

Stewart Brand, an impressive biography, he did an oral history with Mead and Bateson in the '80s and asked them about this conference in the '40s and it's a lovely article of the two of them sitting at a kitchen table squabbling, and I think it's called something like Oh God, Margaret, so it's on the web. You should put it up too because it's a lovely piece about why it was that anthropology was important to embed in the future in 1946 and, of course, my argument would be why it is still important to inventing the future in 2018.

[00:50:51] Jodie: Yes, you're right, that was awesome.

[00:50:55] Prof. Genevieve: Yes, how can you go wrong? [crosstalk]

[00:50:58] Jodie: We’ve got maybe three minutes; can I ask one more question? What fascinates me about this idea of creating a new social science is the how. I mean, you can create a program. You can create a course.

[00:51:15] Prof. Genevieve: How do you build a whole new thing?

[00:51:16] Jodie: Yes, like a discipline, it's got roots and leaves. How do you do that?

[00:51:22] Prof. Genevieve: Every discipline started somewhere right, and every discipline had a founding moment and a foundational story and a problem they were trying to solve, how do you do it? I think you do three things. I think you have to think about what is the question you're trying to solve, what's the problem space? For me, the problem space really is how do you get AI safely to scale?

How do you think about the metaphoric railway? I don't think it's just enough to add ethics to computer science or design thinking to engineering, or the digital humanities. I think those are all interesting, that's not what I'm talking about here. Me, I'm interested in how will the human beings who have to manage those systems be trained and by who and what will they know how to do?

For me, how do you build a new discipline? You start with the problem statement. The problem statement is there's a technical system in need of management, now we don't have the managers, so that's number one, bit number two as well, you do it the way we do everything else, so go and find instantiations of the problem and study them exquisitely. So qualitative research, looking at places that already have these systems and what's happening there.

The second piece you do is you attempt to teach it. So this is the bit I know from Silicon Valley. Rather than waiting till you know the answers, I'm a big believer in just building the thing and seeing what happens, so as of February 2019, we'll take our first class of students here at the Australian National University. We put out a call for applicants, we've got 173 applications for 10 slots.

[00:52:41] Jodie: Wow.

[00:52:41] Prof. Genevieve: Yeah, dude.

[00:52:42] Jodie: That must've taken a while.

[00:52:44] Prof. Genevieve: It did, so we took 16 rather than 10 because that seemed better, I would love to have taken all of them, but I couldn't. So we're going to build it in real-time. We have a curriculum, we're really pretty clear about what we want to try and do that, the curriculum does two things. It's the theory and practice, so I think both of those things are important.

The theory piece is basically how do you go from problem-solving to question asking, and the praxis piece is how do you design, build, regulate, run, scale, secure and decompose a cyber-physical system? How do you give people all the tools necessary to take AI to scale so that they know what it looks like? Not so that they can all be experts in it, but so they know what the right questions to ask are. For me, how do you build a new academic discipline or new applied science? What's the problem you want to solve? What are the early instantiations of it, and how do you start to iteratively teach the answers and see if it works? Then if it doesn't work, you stop.

[00:53:33] Jodie: That is very exciting.

[00:53:35] Prof. Genevieve: Oh my God, what, are you kidding? It's like the best job ever, and I've had the best job ever for multiple instantiations of my career, so I'm a happy bunny.

[00:53:41] Jodie: Yes, I should say so. That was awesome, thank you so much for that. That was a very, very cool interview.

[00:53:48] Prof. Genevieve: You're very welcome.


[00:54:07] Jodie: That was it, me and Genevieve Bell. Today's episode was produced by me, Jodie-Lee Trembath, with help from the other familiar strangers in Ian Pollock, Julia Brown, Simon Theobald, and our executive producers, Matthew Phung, and Deanna Catto. Subscribe to The Familiar Strange podcast. You can find us on iTunes, Spotify, and all the other familiar places, and please, if you have an opportunity, if you could leave us a rating or a review and tell us both your likes and your dislikes, it helps people find the show.

It helps people understand what the show is about, it helps us make the show better. You can find the show notes for this episode, including a list of all the books and papers mentioned today, plus our blog about anthropology's role in the world at the familiarstrange.com. If you want to contribute to the blog or have anything to say to me or the other hosts in this program, email us at submissions@familiarstrange.com or you can tweet @TFSTweets or look us up on Facebook and Instagram, and we will be opening a Facebook group very soon.

If you are interested, look us up and ask to be invited to the secret group where the inside conversations are happening, come join us. Our music's by Pete Dabro. Special thanks today go to Nick Farrelly, Will Grant, and Maude Row. Thanks for listening, we'll see you in two weeks. Until next time, keep talking strange.


[00:56:07] [END OF AUDIO]


For more on Brewarrina, the town with the fish weirs: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jul/10/fish-traps-brewarrina-extraordinary-ancient-structures-protection

If you’d like to read a bit about Genevieve’s mother, who is also an anthropologist, see this biography of Diane: http://www.womenaustralia.info/leaders/biogs/WLE0596b.htm

Genevieve mentions doing fieldwork and ‘deep hanging out’ at Intel, for a quick definition of what this is, give this a read: http://cyborganthropology.com/Deep_Hanging_Out

To become more versed in the English “Yeah, nah”/”Nah, yeah” Life Hacker has got you covered: https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/06/the-difference-between-yeah-nah-and-nah-yeah/

To read more about the Cybernetics Conferences:
C. Pias (2016) ‘Cybernetics: The Macy Conferences 1946-1953: The Complete Transactions’, University of Chicago Press.

The article Genevieve mentions called ‘For God’s Sake, Margaret’ is available to read here: http://www.alice.id.tue.nl/references/bateson-mead-1976.pdf

And don’t forget our new Facebook Group ‘The Familiar Strange Chats’ is now online. You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/254414971880221/ 

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and theAustralian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com

Shownotes by Deanna Catto

Image ‘Silicon Valley from above’ by Patrick Nouhailler (2013) available at:

One thought on “Ep. #32 ‘Hula Hoops not Bicycles’: Genevieve Bell talks Anthropology, Technology & Building the Future

  1. Pingback: Ep#62 Job Fantasies, Working with Others, Extractive Calls & Reciprocity Revisited:This Month on TFS | The Familiar Strange

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