The benefits of computing are often confined within the populations with certain privileges. Those benefits rarely reach billions of underprivileged lives around the world fighting extreme poverty, illiteracy, gender discrimination, forced migration, and various other exploitations and marginalization. The services that are available through computing often fail to address their needs and constraints. My research with various marginalized communities in the Indian subcontinent over the last twelve years has revealed how this failure is often associated with some of the core issues of computing, including access, autonomy, and justification. In this talk, I will explain these three topics by describing three projects that I have been working on, each of which involves ethnography and design work with marginalized communities in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Canada. My talk will focus on how access to computing becomes limited by the imposition of colonial perspectives, how autonomy over a digital platform is curtailed by discriminatory standards, and how computing technologies often silence local voices by using western scientific rationalities. In this talk, I will further demonstrate how my design research explores possible ways to strengthen the voice of marginalized communities by focusing on local values, participation, and pluralism.
Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto. He directs the ‘Third Space” research group in the “Dynamics Graphics Project (DGP)” Lab. He conducts research in the intersection between Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Information and Communication Technology and Development (ICTD). His research focuses on the design challenges around ‘voice’, which he defines through access, autonomy, and accountability. Most of his research is situated in the Indian subcontinent, where he 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 the marginalization in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, China, Canada, and the US. Ishtiaque is a Bangladeshi citizen and Canadian resident. He received his PhD and Masters from Cornell University in the USA, and his Bachelor from BUET in Bangladesh. He received the International Fulbright Science and Technology Fellowship in 2011, Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing graduate Fellowship in 2014, Connaught Early Researcher Award in 2018, and Fulbright Centennial Fellowship in 2019. He has also received multiple awards for best research papers in top computer science conferences including CHI and CSCW. His research has been funded by all three branches of Canadian tri-council research (NSERC, CIHR, SSHRC), NSF, NIH, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Intel, Samsung, the World Bank, UNICEF, and UNDP, among others.