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Building a future we want to live: Professor Genevieve Bell at Xerocon Brisbane

Posted 1 month ago in Xero news by Dina Veljanovska

“I always think the most useful thing you can do about the future, rather than be pessimistic or optimistic about it, is just to build one you wanna live in.”

Growing up alongside her anthropologist mother on her field sites in central and northern Australian aboriginal communities, it’s no surprise that Prof Genevieve Bell developed a passion for anthropology. She went on to study the subject in the United States, attending Bryn Mawr College for her bachelor’s degree and graduating from Stanford University with her masters and PhD.

Professor Bell, who is now director of the Autonomy, Agency and Assurance Institute, has spent much of her career living and working in Silicon Valley, surrounded by a technological disruption. She’s now exploring the ways that we can best understand and navigate the complexity of cyber-physical systems.

“I’ve always loved anthropology – I find people endlessly fascinating. I find the things we do as human beings endlessly compelling. And I like attempting to make some sense of why we do the things we do”. Professor Bell believes that by studying the motivations behind human behaviour, those understandings may help drive different kinds of technical solutions.

The AI revolution

We’re thrilled to have Prof Bell join us at Xerocon Brisbane as a keynote speaker. She‘ll explore the AI revolution and how she believes it will impact our future. She will also challenge us to think about the five big questions that cyber-physical systems raise, and how to go about answering them.

“There are five key questions you should always ask about any advanced technical system you’re building. But I’m not going to tell you what those are yet, ‘cos that would give things away.” Whilst addressing the risks and benefits from building AI technologies, Prof Bell will explore whether AI is truly disruptive, or whether it can be integrated in solutions to our current problems.

Professor Bell is now well on her way to developing a new curriculum which studies the autonomy of AI technologies. She believes that we need a new body of knowledge to help us build and regulate those systems safely at scale. So she has set out to build a new applied science.

“Building an autonomous vehicle isn’t just about getting the AI piece right; you have to think about how you integrate the computer system into a physical system; how you think about the roads those vehicles need to operate on; the set of rules they need to be trained on. It’s a big, messy, wonderful, complicated world.”

Life in Silicon Valley

The culture in Silicon Valley is one that challenges you to try new things. The people there encourage harvesting knowledge from things that don’t go as planned. It’s a community which truly lives by the quote, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again.”

“Because no matter the outcome, what you’re going to do is iterate them and build on them, and learn from them – without the anxiety of needing to succeed,” Prof Bell says. “It’s alright to prototype.”

“The other thing I know from Silicon Valley is that you never build the future alone. And I wouldn’t want to anyway.” Prof Bell is putting out a plea for help: she’s planning on building the future, and she doesn’t want to do it alone.

Come along to Professor Genevieve Bell’s keynote at Xerocon Brisbane this year. Maybe you’ll take home a nugget or two on how you can build a future that is right for you.

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