How Genevieve Bell gathers intel for Intel — WIRED

AUTOPIA
05 JULY 11
by JAMES SILVER

Genevieve Bell (above) is an anthropologist whose people-watching informs next-generation computer chips. As head of Intel’s interaction and experience research group, the 43-year-old has spent the past six months persuading Australians, Malaysians and Singaporeans to empty out their cars. “We lay tarpaulins on the street and empty them of everything we can find from the glove compartment, between the seats, the door pockets, the boot — the whole thing,” she says. “We talk to people about what they’re carrying around with them every day of their lives. “This project is about the ways in which technologies layer on top of one another,” says Bell.

“We found, for example, that people are buying cars fitted with GPS, but are also using their mobile devices for GPS as well as keeping maps, too. As cars become smarter and have more technology, what will the consequences be?”

As leader of a new research-and-development laboratory comprising social scientists, interaction designers, tech researchers and human-factors engineers, the Oregon-based Australian is charged with looking “seven to ten years out from now”. “My job is to spend time in people’s lives, making sense of what they value, and then using that to help Intel understand what technology it should make,” she says. “It’s about looking far enough ahead so there’s a runway to do some interesting things, but close enough so you don’t find yourself talking the language of science fiction.”

This article was first published in WIRED magazine in July 2011.