Philosopher Brett joins the Dragonfly crew

13 July, 2020

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We’re delighted to be able to welcome Dr Brett Calcott to the Dragonfly team from mid-July. Brett will be based in Auckland and visit Wellington regularly.

Brett has an academic and practical background in the philosophy of science, biology, software engineering and data science.

“I love big ideas and fundamental problems but I also like building things. What originally attracted me to philosophy was artificial intelligence – how do you build something that thinks? I wanted to understand that really deeply.”

This question eventually led Brett back to university to finish his philosophy degree after a spell on the dole (teaching himself to programme) and work as a software developer in New Zealand and France.

“A philosophy professor got me hooked on biology, and my honours was about the evolution of cooperation. After that I got a PhD scholarship at Australian National University, studying how complex organisation arises in humans and other animals. Ants were my favourite. It seemed like such a puzzling engineering question: how does an evolutionary process produce such incredibly complex social organisation?”

Brett says he has a research-oriented approach and likes to think carefully about how to solve a problem. “It often requires time and clarity of thought to define the actual problem and state it clearly. After that you can harness the numerous online resources we have today, and put together a solution tailored to the problem at hand.”

Ethics is another strength that Brett brings to the role. Though not strictly an ethicist, he says he’s been “soaked in ethics” for quite a while thanks to his time in various philosophy departments.

“Data ethics is an increasingly important issue. Dragonfly is already a socially minded group with high standards for their analysis and the quality of the work they do. I hope to be able to add to that.”

“I’m very excited about the new job. I’ve known the folk from Dragonfly for many years, and they are clearly a group of people with amazing minds who come from all different backgrounds. And now there’s going to be a philosopher in the mix!”

Brett’s previous academic roles have included teaching and researching diverse topics including philosophy and giving guest lectures in biology. Recent work in data science at Xero focused on building and analysing large networks of financial information.

When it’s time to stop thinking, Brett turns to tango dancing. “I’ve been dancing for 15 years and I love it. It’s the best thing I’ve ever found for stopping my mind that’s isn’t an adrenalin sport. It’s a wonderful way to focus.”

Read more and see Brett’s publications.