“Dressed head-to-toe in black, fingers festooned with mammoth rings,” Genevieve Bell isn’t your typical Intel employee, said Michael V. Copeland in Fortune. As the giant chipmaker’s resident cultural anthropologist, Bell, 43, provides company technologists “with a better understanding of how people all over the world use computers, phones, and other gadgets.” It’s not easy convincing Intel’s hyper-rationalist engineers of the value of her research, but the native Australian has scored some notable successes.
Bell persuaded Intel chip designers to “rethink their impulse to build ever-faster processors and market them outside the U.S.” She pointed out that for much of the developing world, the Internet consists mainly of “text on a phone,” which doesn’t require Intel’s top-of-the-line Celeron processors. Intel is now blanketing the developing world with its Atom chips, which are cheaper and consume less power. Intent on helping Intel make products “that are intimately connected with our lives,” she says she has been inspired by a store she visited in Malaysia that sells “paper facsimiles of cell phones” to enable the dead to make calls in the afterlife. “It sounds macabre,” Bell says, “but technology has to be so important that you bury people with it.”