A few years back Intel started an amazing experiment. It was led by Dr. Genevieve Bell, who argued that products should be scientifically designed in advance of human social trends, so when people came around to a new idea the product would magically be there – and not be the typical 5 to 10 years out.
Intel was so taken with the idea that they made Dr. Bell a Fellow and gave her a lab. This week she was recognized along with three other amazing technologists, as they all were inducted into the WITI hall of fame.
WITI (Women in Technology International) has become a power in recognizing how women have helped turn the technology market into what it is today. While once this market was perceived to largely be about and for men, that has dramatically changed over the years. Now women are driving emerging technology waves like social networking and have been instrumental in creating this technology for over a decade.
Let’s talk this week about what Dr. Bell is trying to accomplish and how it will likely change our future of technology into one that is both better integrated with the people who will use it and more profitable.
From the beginning, technology and people were at opposite ends of a spectrum. People are intuitive, emotional, social, and driven by status. Technology is driven largely by numbers and even analytics, a numbers-based practice based on enumerating facts, isn’t done well by machines (unless they are taught to behave more like humans with IBM’s Watson Project as the latest example).
From typewriters to present day computers the practice has been to optimize an interface for the hardware and then teach the human element to interface with that unique system, whether in a strange QWERTY keyboard, a telephone dial or keypad, or wheels and levers.
But there is a concept that has been termed “The Singularity,” which assumes that at some future point the line between machine and human will be much less easier to distinguish. Rather than the crude and machine-driven interfaces we now use, the interfaces will be more natural and the learning will be more balanced.
Much like we design systems to do a task today but in isolation, future systems will need to be designed with people in mind because people, rather than being users, will be a more integrated part of the system.
We have experts who understand technology and experts who understand people and, for the most part, these two classes of experts currently don’t talk to each other much. Fixing that was and is Dr. Bell’s daunting task.
Dr. Bell is one of the critical bridges in that she both understands technology and people and can therefore act as the critical bridge to create more people-focused systems and help people better understand the systems that are created.
She is the one who looks into the future of Intel and prepares it for amazing convergence waves that will be coming as the industry drives technology and people closer and closer together.
For Dr. Genevieve Bell this has been an uphill fight because engineers by their nature are not people focused, in fact if there is a group less people savvy I can’t think of it. And this speaks volumes as to why so many of our technology tools are so hard to use. By becoming a bridge she is helping drive one of most powerful companies, Intel, into rethinking their technology and guidance so that the systems they build in the future will be more intuitive, more interesting, and more profitable because we’ll use them with greater ease and effectiveness.
This is a quiet revolution, one that will take decades, but without Dr. Bell we likely would be decades farther behind. I can think of no one more qualified for being recommended for induction into the WITI hall of fame. Congratulations to Dr. Bell and the other amazing women inducted.