Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed: “Understanding People and Designing Technology for Sustainable Development”

March 23, 2017 3:30 pm
Manning 01

Join us for a special presentation by Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed on Thursday, March 23, at 3:30 p.m. in Manning Hall 01.

Abstract: The top sustainable development goals of the 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 rights, refugee problems, 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.

Bio: Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University where he is advised by Prof. Steven J. Jackson. Ishtiaque earned his B.Sc. in 2009 and M.Sc. in 2011, both in computer science and engineering, from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). He then taught at BUET for two years as a lecturer, where in 2009, he founded the first Human-Computer Interaction research group in Bangladesh, which he continues to lead. In 2010, Ishtiaque started an open-source digital map-making movement in Bangladesh. In 2011, Ishtiaque was awarded the International Fulbright Science and Technology Fellowship for doing his Ph.D. at Cornell University. His Ph.D. research lies in the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD). He has worked with different marginalized communities in Bangladesh and India, including low-literate rickshaw drivers, victims of sexual harassment, mobile phone repairers, garments factory workers, and evicted slum dwellers. He connects ethnography and technology design to address the development-related challenges associated with those communities. In 2016, Ishtiaque co-created the first “Innovation Lab” in Bangladesh. Ishtiaque’s work has been recognized at top HCI and ICTD venues as well as several international news media including The BBC News and The New Scientist. He has also received generous support for his research from National Science Foundation (NSF), Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing, OpenStreetMap Foundation, and Microsoft Research, among others.