How to be Human, and Australian, in a Digital World


Professor Genevieve Bell delivers historic 2017 Boyer Lecture to sold out audience in Sydney

On Saturday 21 October, esteemed cultural anthropologist and futurist, Professor Genevieve Bell delivered an historic edition of the ABC’s long-running Boyer Lectures to a sold out audience in Sydney.

After two decades in Silicon Valley helping to invent the future, Professor Bell has returned home to Australia to spark a national conversation about technology in our lives. Her 2017 Boyer Lecture series is called: ‘Smart, Fast and Connected: What is it to be Human, and Australian, in a Digital World?’

“I think I just saw history being made” – Elanor Huntington, Dean of Engineering and Computer Science, ANU 

“I think Prof Genevieve Bell’s final Boyer Lecture might well be the best talk I’ve ever seen.” – Brian Schmidt, Vice Chancellor ANU

The fourth instalment in the series was recorded live at the ABC in Sydney. It presented a vision for how Australia should build its digital future. As part of the event, Professor Bell responded to questions from members of the audience including former Boyer Lecturer and sociologist Eva Cox, and the Chief Commissioner of Greater Sydney, Lucy Turnbull.

In the talk, which is now released online, Professor Bell asks, “Where is the duty of care for this new data-driven version our smart, fast and connected digital world? How do we build a world that is not about our worst impulses, but our best? How could we help combat inequality? We should be actively developing an appropriate regulatory and policy framework for Australia that establishes our own viewpoint.”

“I worry that, in our current focus on the digital, we have lost some of our agency, and some of our sense of what being human might mean. But I don’t believe this is inevitable or irreversible.” 

Professor Bell says, “I am tempted to suggest there is one simple question here. Do we want to be Australian in this new data-driven smart, fast and connected world, or just another colony of some transnational, commercial empire? Of course, it is not that simple, nor should it be. But it is the case that algorithms and the data-centric world they help build, are manifestations of cultural values and cultural logics which arise in very particular places and contexts.”

Each year since 1959, prominent Australians have been invited to deliver the ABC’s Boyer Lectures to spark national thought, discussion and debate on a range of subjects including social, scientific or culture affairs. Over the past 58 years of the Boyer Lectures, the ABC has produced talks from leading Australians including Bob Hawke, Rupert Murdoch, Quentin Bryce, Geraldine Brooks and Professor Marcia Langton, among others.

Professor Genevieve Bell has publised an opinion peice for The Guardian based on her Boyer Lectures, titled ‘In our focus on digital, have we lost our sense of what being human means?

Professor Genevieve Bell’s Boyer Lecture is now available to listen to on demand as a four-part instalment from, the new ABC listen app or from your favourite podcast platform. Professor Bell’s Boyer’s lecture will also air in the coming weeks on ABC TV, the ABC News channel and the Australia Plus network.

About Professor Genevieve Bell:
Professor Bell is ANU Distinguished and an Intel Senior Fellow who has spent the past 20 years in Silicon Valley, at the epicentre of the biggest set of digital transformations in our lifetime. It’s been her role to ensure that lived experience shapes the direction of future technology.

Professor Bell has pioneered futurist research looking at how different cultures use technology, and helped guide Intel’s product development by developing the company’s social science and design research capabilities. She has joined the Australian National University in Canberra to assist in leading it’s newly announced expansion of this Engineering and Computer Science School.