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Nithya Sambasivan - February 9, 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018 - 2:30pm
Gates 114

The Information Science Colloquium speaker for Friday, February 9, will be Nithya Sambasivan, a researcher focused on technology design for social, economic and political benefits in the Global South. Her research spans the areas of HCI and ICTD, and has won several recognitions at top conferences. She has been a researcher at Google since 2012, where she has co-founded a group to conduct future-facing research on under-represented topics, such as gender equity and new technology users. Her research has influenced several large-scale real-world projects for the next billion users, and has been directly translated to core libraries, metrics, and guidance for Android and Web developers at Build for Billions,, and Google I/O talks. Nithya has a Ph.D. and MS in information and computer sciences from University of California, Irvine and an MS in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) from Georgia Tech. Her dissertation focussed on technology design for the low-income communities of slums, urban sex workers and microenterprises in India. She is a recipient of Google’s Anita Borg and UC Irvine Dean’s fellowships. She has interned at Microsoft Research India, Nokia Research Center and IBM TJ Watson.

Talk: Design for new technology users in the Global South

Abstract: 2017 saw half the world online. As technology penetration and ecosystem maturity increase, there is a growing intent to use technology for socio-economic development for new technology users. However, complex long-standing challenges like affordability, safety, and socio-religious diktats affect the impact of technology in these contexts. Prevailing designs ignore these realities, often leading to failures, even in pilot stages, or unintended consequences. My work examines new technology users in their larger social, political and infrastructural contexts. The resultant designs are sustainable, impactful, and widely adopted in addressing socio-economic benefits. I present my prior work on (i) design and evaluation of a cost transparency tool intended to help new mobile Internet users (ii) design and deployment of one of the world's largest public Wi-Fi networks, in train stations in India; iii) design to tackle abuse and safety vectors for women in Internet technologies; and iv) the study of crisis response by celebrities and citizens in the wake of governmental failure in the debilitating 2015 Chennai floods. I show how prevailing HCI assumptions of privacy, trust, and user identities need to be challenged as Internet advances to reach all edges of human society. Through these projects, I show how large problems can be practically addressed through a combination of design, policy, and algorithms.