Please join the Information Science Colloquium with guest, Nicola Dell.  Nicola Dell is a Ph.D. Candidate in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle advised by Gaetano Borriello and Linda Shapiro. She was born in Zimbabwe and received a B.Sc. in Computer Science from the University of East Anglia (UK) in 2004 and an MS in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Washington in 2011. Her research lies at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD) with a focus on designing, building, and evaluating novel computing systems that improve the lives of underserved populations in low-income regions. Nicola’s research and outreach activities have been recognized through several awards and fellowships, including a Graduate Facebook Fellowship, a Google Anita Borg Scholarship, and a Palantir Scholarship for Women in Technology. She has completed internships at Microsoft Research in Redmond, USA and in Bangalore, India and has led the Change group at the University of Washington since 2011.

Title: Designing Mobile Technologies for Underserved Communities

Abstact: The goal of my research is to design, build, and evaluate novel computing systems that improve the lives of underserved populations in low-income regions. To date, many of the world’s biggest technological advances have primarily benefited people living in developed regions, like North America and Europe, that contain a small fraction of the world’s population. As computing technologies become affordable and accessible to larger and more diverse populations across the globe, it is critical that we broaden the scope to study the social, technical, and infrastructural challenges faced by these diverse communities and build systems that address problems in critical domains such as health care and education. 

In this talk, I describe my general approach to building technologies for underserved communities, including identifying opportunities for technology, conducting formative research to fully understand the space, developing novel technologies, iteratively testing and deploying, evaluating with target populations, and handing off to global development organizations for long-term sustainability. I focus specifically on two examples of systems that I built to address challenges faced by rural health workers: one that automatically digitizes data from paper forms, and another that automatically interprets diagnostic tests for infectious diseases. Both these systems run on cheap, commercially available mobile devices and use computer vision and machine-learning techniques to automate tasks that were previously tedious or error prone. Through extensive evaluations with target populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, I highlight the potential for novel technological solutions to help new and diverse populations address global challenges.