Annual Lecture 2024: Dr Gillian Tett OBE

Dr Gillian Tett OBE delivered the first Margaret Anstee Centre annual lecture at Newnham College on 8 May 2024 on the topic of Why AI needs another AI: using anthropology intelligence to make sense of a world in flux.
Dr Tett studied anthropology at Cambridge at both undergraduate and PhD level, before going on to have a successful career as a Financial Times journalist and author of several books. She recently returned to Cambridge in the role of Provost at King’s College.
Dt Tett’s academic background in anthropology has had a huge impact on her career and outlook on life. Her PhD took her to live with a remote community in Tajikistan where she studied marriage rituals and how the Tajik identity was being impacted by the influence of Communism.
The study of anthropology challenges people to immerse themselves in a culture which is very unknown to them, and this has had a profound effect on the course of Dr Tett’s career and her ability to analyse economic and societal trends. As a financial journalist, Dr Tett wrote with great prescience in 2005-6 about the flaws in the financial markets, the misuse of credit and the disconnect between the people and culture of the financial sector and the reality of the market and customers’ lives and experiences.
Following the crash of 2007-8, financial bodies became more interested in anthropology and Dr Tett noted that risk managers do now look at cultural as well as financial factors in the marketplace.
Dr Tett highlighted that we face a similar challenge with the rapid development of technology. How can the human experience be built into tools, which are being developed by a small group of companies in Silicon Valley?
Dr Tett cited the work of Beth Goldberg at Jigsaw. Jigsaw are working to address misinformation online through developing a better understanding of the way that different groups actually use technology by engaging with people and learning from their needs and experiences.
 
Dr Tett also addressed the erosion of trust in institutions. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer survey shows that younger generations now have more trust in their peer groups (including their online communities) than in experts, mainstream media or institutions. She called this mindset Generation Playlist – people can now pick and choose in all aspects of life, such as how they eat, work and listen to music and their choices are influenced by the comments and reviews they read more than by experts or authority figures.
 
This expectation of flexibility can cause friction with older generations, who have grown up with more rigid structures and very limited choices, but is essentially a very beneficial development allowing people to express their identity and readily access information and culture.
In summary, Dr Tett expressed concern that there was a risk that new technologies were developed by a small and homogeneous group of people in the technology sector, the same issue that had been so damaging in the financial sector. However, she noted that Microsoft is now the second biggest global employer of anthropologists and so human understanding is now being built into the development and improvement of technologies to some extent. 
 
Dr Tett also looked to the university community as a key and dynamic arena where social sciences and computer sciences can interact and learn from each other and break down silos. She encouraged anthropology students to feel optimistic about their futures and the wide range of impactful career opportunities available to them.
 
Many thanks to Dr Tett for her insightful and encouraging lecture.