August 2021: Academic Research x Tech for Social Good
First newsletter post!
Happy August, and welcome to the Bytes of Good Newsletter! Bytes of Good is finally ramping our newsletter to give people insights into a variety of social impact areas and their relationships with technology!
From poverty to education to sustainability, we want to share ways for passionate individuals to explore their interests.
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Academic Research x Tech for Social Good 🎬
If you haven't given it a listen yet, check out Episode 3: Academic Research x Tech for Social Good (w/ Dr. Aditya Vashistha) here! Find the edited transcript with resources embedded in the text here!
First of all, academic research’s intersection with tech for social good is an enormous space that covers research in fields like Security and Privacy, Computer Networking, Human-Computer Interaction, and Artificial Intelligence. While some research projects are situated within the context of the Global South, others focus on institutions, corporations, and practices within the United States.
Outside the research projects themselves, conferences like ACM FAccT1 and ACM CHI2 invite researchers, practitioners, and community stakeholders to share ideas and perspectives on the social impacts of automated decision-making, digital surveillance, and much, much more. Meanwhile, programs like Cornell’s Summer School on Designing Technology for Social Impact help train underrepresented rising seniors and graduate students in the research on the social impacts of information technology.
In this month’s newsletter, we’ll dip our toes into this broad intersection of academic research x tech for social good to see what researchers are up to and how you can get involved!
How can computing research contribute to social change?
As researchers in computing fields grapple with the role of computing in society, some individuals are helping us better understand whether (and if so, how) computing can play a valuable role in addressing social problems like poverty and discrimination.
In "Roles for Computing in Social Change", Dr. Rediet Abebe, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley, and her colleagues at Cornell University and Microsoft Research leverage insights from law and policy, computer and information science, and sociology to outline 4 potential roles for computational research in addressing social problems: computing research as a diagnostic, formalizer, rebuttal, and synecdoche.
For a quick overview of the paper, check out Dr. Karen Levy, one of the paper’s authors, giving a quick (~8 minutes) presentation at the ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency.
Today, we’re spotlighting both a lab and an individual whose research is centered on tech for social good!
Dr. Aditiya Vashistha
Dr. Vashistha is an Assistant Professor at the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College for Computing and Information Science.
His research, which lies at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), ICT & Development (ICTD), and Accessibility, spans the design, development, and evaluation of appropriate computing systems for underserved communities worldwide. Learn more about his work here, and keep reading for a sneak peek at some of the work Dr. Vashistha has done!
In 2019, Dr. Vashistha teamed up with Dr. Umar Saif and Dr. Agha Ali Raza to write "The Internet of Orals", an article published in the Communications of the ACM (CACM). The article, which guides us through the evolution of voice-based services in low-resource environments like India and Pakistan, is an accessible read on how researchers have used IVR (interactive voice response) technologies to overcome connectivity, literacy, and socioeconomic barriers. Instead of relying on an Internet connection or fancy smartphone devices, these systems allow individuals to call a phone number to listen to and record messages in their local languages.
The University of Washington Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) Lab
Next up, we present the ICTD Lab at the University of Washington, Dr. Vashistha’s Ph.D. alma mater! This interdisciplinary group conducts research in HCI, Systems, and Communication and Data Analytics to explore ways in which technology can improve the lives of underserved populations in low-income regions.
The lab also hosts a Medium blog with articles about community networks in Seattle, the intersection of technology and human-centered environmentalism, and many other fascinating topics!
Bytes from the Episode 🍿
What is "extreme poverty"?
Someone who lives in extreme poverty is defined as an individual living on less than $1.90/day, regardless of where they live.3
According to the World Bank, from 1993 to 2017, the world population grew by over 2 billion people, but the percentage of people in extreme poverty decreased from 35.8% to 9.2%. Read more about the Sustainable Development Goal of ending global poverty here.
Access vs. Inclusion: What’s the Difference?
In the episode, Dr. Vashistha elaborates on the difference between access and inclusion in ICTD through three examples: (1) low-income, low-literate individuals who have access to smartphones but are not included in the online information ecology, and (2) women in the Global South who have access to smartphones but do not have the agency to independently operate them, and (3) females who have access to voice-based social computing services but experience harassment, flirting, and abusive behavior upon joining the platform.
Another example of differentiating between access and inclusion can be found within the context of diversity in education. In the TED talk linked below, Anthony Abraham Jack, Assistant Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, explains why access is NOT inclusion by highlighting two of the many struggles that disadvantaged students experience in college: the “hidden curriculum”, and food insecurity.
More Social Good + Tech ❤️
Mechanism Design for Social Good
MD4SG (Mechanism Design for Social Good) is a multi-institutional initiative and diverse community of researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners working towards fostering collaboration across disciplines and building research to practice pipelines.
Through their monthly online colloquium series, workshops, domain-specific working groups, and more, MD4SG leverages techniques from algorithms, mechanism design, and optimization, along with insights from other disciplines, to improve the equity and social welfare of marginalized communities.
Read more about the community here, or dive into their archive of colloquium talks here!
Next up, TeachAids is a nonprofit social enterprise that designs, produces, and distributes health education around the world. Founded in 2009 by Dr. Piya Sorcar, this 501(c)3 nonprofit organization grew from Dr. Sorcar's doctoral work at Stanford. Read more about their story here.
If you're itching for an academic research article about their work, start here with "Sidestepping the Elephant in the Classroom: Using Culturally Localized Technology To Teach Around Taboos", a 2017 article written by Dr. Piya Sorcar and her collaborators at Stanford University and at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Looking for information on academic life and/or advice on applying to Ph.D. programs?
Look no further! Dr. Casey Fiesler, an assistant professor in the Department of Information Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, shares amazing advice and incredibly insightful perspectives on academic and research through videos and live Q&As on her Youtube channel.
We recommend starting with her video, "Should You Get a Ph.D.??? | Reasons to Apply to Ph.D. Programs (OR NOT)"!
… and that’s a wrap!
Thanks so much for reading our August 2021 newsletter on academic research x tech for social good!
Check out our podcast episodes and live series recordings at bytesofgood.org, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay in the loop. We’ll be pushing out these monthly newsletters as well, so be sure to subscribe now!
We look forward to sharing more bytes of tech for social good with you in the future! :)
Angela and James