Expatriate anthropologist and tech industry legend Genevieve Bell is returning to Australia after a career in the US to take up a research role split between the CSIRO’s Data61 unit and the Australian National University.
Originally from Sydney but raised in various communities across Australia – including remote indigenous settlements – Dr Bell earned her doctorate from Stanford University before joining Intel in Silicon Valley in 1998.
At Intel Dr Bell pioneered futurist research as a cultural anthropologist looking at how different cultures use technology – helping guide the company’s product development by developing Intel’s social science research capability.
She has been an Intel vice-president and was named the company’s first female Intel Fellow, the company’s highest technical rank, based in Portland Oregon.
Dr Bell will now join the ANU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science as a Professor, and spend time in collaborative research projects at Data61’s Canberra facility, looking at the human element of data and data-driven economics and government service delivery.
She will retain her position as an Intel Fellow.
Data61 and the ANU – who are already research partners – had approached Dr Bell with a combined proposition to secure her return to Australia.
“Our ambition is not just to be the best data science organisation in Australia, but the best in our region,” said Data61 chief executive officer Adrian Turner. “And to do that we need to attract the best and brightest talent in the world from wherever they are working right now.”
“For us, Genevieve represents exactly that. She is the leader in her field – globally – in a domain that’s going to become more important to the world,” Mr Turner said.
Dr Bell’s position as a prominent female researcher would make her an excellent “advocate for women in science, an inspiration for our team and for kids coming through, Mr Turner said.
The dean of the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, Prof Elanor Huntington said she was thrilled to appoint Dr Bell to the College.
“She is a distinguished technologist and public intellectual, and a leading figure in diversity and inclusion globally in the technology sector.
“Her potential to transform the relationship between people and technology cannot be understated, and I look forward to her achieving great things from her new base here. It’s been a pleasure to build on our long-standing partnership with Data61 and join forces to make this a reality.”
Dr Bell said she was very familiar with the ANU. “As a little kid, I remember thinking the ANU was the most remarkable place. It was full of big thinkers, and great story-tellers and such a lot of history,” she said.
“That I get to return to it as an adult and a member of the faculty is a genuine privilege. I am also excited to be afforded the opportunity to collaborate with Data61.”
Data61’s Mr Turner said Dr Bell’s research was very relevant in the government sphere.
“One of the things we think is important is really thinking through the role of government in a world led by algorithms,” Mr Turner said.
“How does government ensure fairness and equity? And what’s the notion of fairness in an automated world? Who determines what’s fair?”
“Genevieve has been tasked by ANU with exploring how to bring together data science, design thinking and ethnography to drive new approaches in engineering; and in partnership with Data61, exploring the questions of what it means to be human in a data-driven economy and world,” Mrf Turner said.