Intel has been paying for anthropological research for seven years, and Gelsinger admits that when he became CTO in 2001, he wasn’t entirely sure why. “You have these ‘softer’ scientists sitting next to hard scientists designing chips and things very familiar to Intel, and it’s much harder to justify and measure the qualitative research,” he says. But it eventually became clear to him that the anthropologists had useful insights into a variety of emerging markets, from China and India to health care.
The rise of the anthropologists may come just in time for Intel. Its traditional Western markets are largely saturated, while many parts of the developing world use cell phones for e-mail and other forms of communication. And Intel’s efforts to gain share in the cell-phone market have not been strong. Thus, developing new approaches to potentially huge markets like India and China may help Intel grow faster in the future.
Another new effort by Intel, its nascent Digital Health initiative, could be even more important, since health care represents nearly 15 percent of the U.S. economy, its largest single component. It is the kind of market that could jumpstart growth even for a giant like Intel, which has very little presence in the health-care market. And figuring out how to tap into that market is where social scientists come in.