Thursday, February 21, 2019
Title: The Evolving Role of Anthropologists in the Technology Industry
Abstract: Thirty years ago, a few intrepid anthropologists began to use the tools of ethnographic inquiry to critically examine the assumptions underlying the design of new technologies. (Your speaker, however, was neither old nor intrepid enough to be among them.) Over the ensuing years, the utility of ethnographic research in technology design, development and deployment became more broadly accepted. Today, a decent number of anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists can be found working in the technology industry. Very often, this work is glossed as “User Experience Research” or “User Experience Design.” This label is both a blessing and a curse. It has established a recognizable job title in which anthropologists can be seen and recognized as legitimate participants in a vibrant industry. At the same time, it has a tendency to pigeon-hole the kinds of contributions that anthropologists might be asked to – or even allowed to – provide. As this talk will discuss, the potential contributions of social scientists – particularly anthropologists – extend well beyond just “User Experience.” With the advent of artificial intelligence, in particular, the technology industry is undergoing a significant shift in how it thinks about the relationship between humans and technology. The questions being raised by this shift are begging for a deeper anthropological engagement, both in industry and academia.
Bio: John Sherry received his PhD from the University of Arizona in 1995, spent two years at Microsoft Corporation, then joined Intel Corporation in late 1996. During his time at Intel, he has had the opportunity to investigate the role of new technologies across a wide variety of settings, including salmon fishing in Alaska, growing old in the Mediterranean, street vending and farming in Morocco, and early childhood vaccination in northern India, among others. Currently, he leads a team of designers, researchers and technologists in what is called the User Experience Innovation Lab, part of Intel Labs, in Hillsboro, Oregon. The team is charged with discovering new applications of artificial intelligence, exploring new techniques for human-machine interaction, and helping discern the larger social, economic and cultural implications of these new capabilities.