Cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell unpacks the impact of industrialisation, and the current fourth wave, on people and society, at the Ireland’s Edge conference.
Cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell spoke to the Ireland’s Edge conference, unpacking the impact of systems which developed in each wave of industrialisation.
Beginning with the steam age, and how the steam engine led to trains, which led to transport systems, she went into detail about why the diagram featured above (released by the World Economic Forum) bothers her – because it leaves out the humans.
Working with Intel she stitches together culture and technology and investigates what it meant for things to become digital, the effect on systems, on people and on society.
She revealed that two or three years ago the story started to look different – it wasn’t just about devices but about data. Big data and the Internet of Things is a major area of focus, and the management of the information this gives us, and what it tells us about where the future is going.
She posits that each wave has a familiar feel, and the impulse is to find a way to put humans in command of the physical systems. However she is not convinced that the new wave of cyber physical systems is profoundly different from the systems that have come before because it changes where humans sit in the system. Her question is if we have come to the point where it is no longer about us managing the machines, but we have reached the point where the machines can manage the machines.
AI allows us to build smart systems and give it enough data to learn patterns. Autonomous technology may allow the technologies to propel themselves. She discussed the autonomous car as a good of example of thinking about the whole ecosystem around autonomous technologies, pointing out autonomous does not mean it can exist and work by itself.
“When we talk about the machinery running itself, what do we really mean by that?” she asks. There are technical and regulatory considerations also. “How do we decide what the agency is? How do we decided how far a technical object gets before it has to check in with us?”
She concluded by speaking about her new role as director of the 3A Institute – for Autonomy, Assurance and Agency – at the Australian National University, which will set a new curriculum for an applied science for the people who are going to manage the machines and technology of the future.