PhD and MS Admissions
ACT4D (Appropriate Computing Technologies for Development)
School of Information Technology
Indian Institute of Technology Delhi
About the School
The Amar Nath and Shashi Khosla School of Information Technology was established at IIT Delhi in 2004 with an endowment from the distinguished alumnus, Vinod Khosla (B.Tech., EE 1976). The objective of the School is to foster inter-disciplinary, goal-oriented research, innovation and post-graduate education in areas where applications of computing have a significant impact. It has state-of-the art laboratories for use by all students and faculty members working on such problems, and encourages the participation of researchers from different disciplines and departments in such sponsored research activities.
The School offers Ph.D. and M.S. (Research) programmes in Information Technology. The focus is on inter-disciplinary research, and we welcome students with various backgrounds in computing, engineering, design, and the humanities. The school also develops and offers academic courses in a variety of application areas.
About the ACT4D research group
The Appropriate Computing Technologies for Development research group is led by Prof. Aaditeshwar Seth, with a focus on applications for social development of underserved communities. Our research is at multiple levels:
- We have built systems such as voice interfaces for less-literate populations, mass media analysis and news recommendation systems, digitization of paper forms for health data collection, and satellite-data analysis for poverty mapping, among others.
- We have scaled many of these systems through long-term deployments over many years, which has enabled us to explore research in information science on how learning happens through participatory media systems, media effects research on improvements in governance through social accountability, and the design of incentive systems for voluntary work.
- We have generalized much of this experience to suggest design methodologies that are fine-tuned through deployment experience and grounded in ethics. We have used this framework to analyze several information systems on their suitability for social development.
A lot of this research has been conducted with the social enterprise Gram Vaani, an award-winning startup founded by the ACT4D group itself.
Open research projects
We are looking at several open problems of an inter-disciplinary nature, which need both a CS/IT experience as well as a design or sociology or communications background. We are building an inter-disciplinary research group for this purpose.
- Issues of hate speech and fake news on social media platforms is well known. The typical approach followed by most platforms is to build algorithms to catch such misuse, but we believe that this is a broader unsolved design problem that can be addressed through moderation tools for users and administrators, methods to evolve editorial policies in a participatory manner, establish usage norms on the platforms, etc. Research students will be expected to conduct ethnographic studies of the practice of social media use, run design exercises to conceptualize new methods for moderation and agreement for editorial policies, evaluate the resiliency of these methods to different attack scenarios, prototype, and possibly even take these innovations further to engage with the industry to productize and evaluate the impact.
Technical skills required will include linear algebra, machine learning, statistical data science methods, and application development. Social sciences skills will require qualitative and quantitative data collection methods for ethnographic research and impact evaluation. These methods will be applied within information systems paradigms of participatory design with ethical foundations to manage the platforms.
- Variants of the above problem for less-literate and low-income user groups, rural female users, especially first-time Internet users, and other such underserved groups especially at intersectionalities, is expected to lead to new streams of research as well. We would like to explore how media literacy can be imparted to these user segment and how their editorial preferences can be sought to build their preferences into AI-based content recommendation systems.
- Most information sharing platforms such as Facebook and Youtube are owned by large private enterprises and have faced heavy criticism in recent times about their policies, such as privacy issues on data sharing, amplification of sensational and radical content in information feeds, etc. Such issues surface due to the advertising dominant business model of such platforms. Open non-advertising based platforms have been proposed as alternatives but face an important question of how to ensure financial sustainability. We are interested to understand the feasibility of monetary micro-contributions by users to financially sustain open platforms, through subscriptions or crowd-sourcing or other means, especially in the context of platforms used by low-income communities. Research students will be expected to run ethnographic studies and design exercises to understand incentives of users to participate on information sharing platforms, design mechanisms to leverage these incentives, and try them out in partnership with Gram Vaani which has been operating such platforms for almost a decade now.
- We are building several big-data based systems using satellite imagery, commodity prices, and other sources, to develop anomaly detection methods that can reveal interesting patterns such as which villages or districts seem to be developing faster than others, or if there are signs of trade mal-practices in agricultural mandis, etc. However, such big-data analytics cannot explain the reasons behind these observations and need to be supplemented with local context information. Research students will be expected to develop methods that can use newspaper reports or social media or rapid population surveys to explain these anomalies. Further, once such observations are obtained, we also want to research into participatory policy making methods where citizens can be informed about these observations, apparent reasons behind them, and involved in deliberation of how they would like to shape their communities in the light of these findings.
Technical skills will require exposure to deep-learning based artificial intelligence methods, visualization, natural language processing, and application design. Social sciences skills will require exposure to qualitative and quantitative methods for data collection.
- Digitization of public health data on maternal and child care can give many insights on why issues like malnutrition, missed opportunities for vaccination, and high infant and maternal mortality, among others, still persist. Tools are now available for community health workers to provide such data. Interesting dynamics however arise because this data can also be used to monitor and surveil the health workers, or other officials in the health system, which skews the incentives for various participants to use the system honestly. We have an ongoing deployment of a public health data collection system in UP, and are interested in conducting ethnographic studies with different stakeholders to understand their views and patterns of usage. With the growing trend towards data-driven decision making, it is imperative to also understand the sociology of the various actors involved in the data collection process and this research project can provide deep insights for other MIS (Management Information Systems) as well.
- The government has provided several schemes for the benefit of unskilled labour in the informal sector, especially the construction industry, but people either do not know about these schemes or they find it hard to enroll because they are not able to muster a proof of work. We want to design IVR and mobile app based systems for such workers to help them steadily build up a validated profile of the work they have, sites at which they have worked, potentially even the wages they received, so that both enrollment for the government schemes becomes easier as well as a first step towards formalization of the industry can be taken. Research students will be expected to engage in ethonographic studies of these informal sector labour markets, identify leverage points that can bring benefit to workers, and design and evaluate prototypes in an action research methodology.
We are building a highly inter-disciplinary research group and are looking for committed students with a stellar academic background, good technical writing skills, excellent communication skills, a passion for social impact, and who want to build a long-term career in defining appropriate uses for technology. We welcome students from diverse backgrounds including CS/IT with exposure to systems building, data science, and application development; communications, sociology, and development studies with exposure to qualitative and quantitative research, impact evaluation, and ethnographic studies; and design studies with exposure to participatory and co-design methods, service design, and systems thinking.
To discuss more about these projects or similar ideas, you can write to Aaditeshwar Seth at firstname.lastname@example.org
PhD and MS (Research) programmes are offered in Full-time and Part-time mode. In keeping with the inter-disciplinary nature of SIT, applicants with UG/PG degrees in CS/ IT/ EE/ Maths/ Design/ Humanities and a wide range of other disciplines are eligible to apply, provided there is overlap with the School’s research areas.
Research scholars in the School are financially supported by various schemes including Institute Assistantships, Government and Industry fellowships, and research projects.
Apply online at https://ecampus.iitd.ac.in/PGADM/login. The online application deadline is Oct 30th. If you miss the application deadline, you can still apply offline: contact the School office run by Mr. Rajesh Kumar (+91-11-2659-6056, )