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Department seminar: Understanding People and Designing Technology for Sustainable Development 01/23 12-1pm

Professor Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed

University of Toronto

Understanding People and Designing Technology for Sustainable Development

Date: Wednesday January 23rd 12-1pm

Location: LAS 3033

Lunch will be provided.

Abstract:

The top Sustainable Development Goals of United Nations, including poverty alleviation, literacy, and gender equality, are closely tied to the problem of exclusion from core economic, social, and cultural infrastructures. As a potential tool for sustainable development, technology has the responsibility to make these infrastructures more inclusive. However, to date, many of the world’s biggest technological advances have primarily benefited only a small fraction of the developed world. The goal of my research is to leverage ethnographic methods to understand the underserved populations in low-income regions, and design and develop appropriate technologies to bring sustainable positive change in their lives.

In this talk, I will describe my general research approach that combines ethnography and design. I will focus on two projects to explain how understanding the communities through a deep ethnography can result in effective technologies. The first is “Suhrid”, an accessible mobile phone interface for a low-literate rickshaw driver community. The second is “Protibadi”, a mobile phone application for women to combat public sexual harassment. Both projects will demonstrate a set of ethnographic tools and techniques for understanding different economic, social, and cultural values of a community and how those can play a crucial role in designing novel technologies. In addition, I will briefly discuss my ongoing work on privacy right, refugee problem, technology repair, and e-waste to show how ethnographic studies have opened up novel spaces for design and other creative interactions mediated by computing technologies. Through these projects, I will also explain how “voice”, which I defined by better access, visibility, and freedom, can empower marginalized communities combat the problem of exclusion, and contribute towards sustainable development.

Speaker:

Dr. Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at University of Toronto. He leads the “Third Space” research group there. He conducts research in the intersection between Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Information and Communication Technology and Development (ICTD). He received his PhD from Cornell University in 2017. His PhD research focused on the design challenges around ‘voice’ which he defines through access, autonomy, and accountability. Most of his early research was situated in Bangladesh and India, where he had conducted ethnography and design studies with many underprivileged communities including readymade garments factory workers, evicted slum dwellers, rickshaw drivers, mobile phone repairers, and victims of sexual harassment. His current work has expanded from there and is also addressing pressing concerns of marginalization in Iran, Turkey, China, Canada, and the US. His work is often motivated by postcolonial computing, infrastructural politics, feminist HCI, and subaltern studies.

Dr. Ahmed established the first HCI research lab in Bangladesh in 2009. He also launched the first open-source digital map-making initiative in Bangladesh in 2010. Very recently, he and his colleagues founded an “Innovation Lab” in Bangladesh to promote grass-root level innovation in the country. Dr. Ahmed received the prestigious International Fulbright Science and Technology Fellowship in 2011. He also received Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing graduate fellowship in 2015. Very recently, in 2018, he has been awarded the Connaught Early Researcher Award from the University of Toronto. He has also received multiple awards for his publications including a Best Paper award in ICTD and a Best Paper Honorable Mention Award in ACM CHI. Dr. Ahmed’s work has been supported by various national and international organizations including the National Science Foundation (NSF) of USA, National Institute of Health (NIH) of USA, Intel, Microsoft Research, IBM Research, Samsung Research, the World Bank, and National Institute of Mental Health of Bangladesh. His current research is being supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada, and Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).