Research Themes  |  Research Projects  |  Creative Practice  |  Teaching

Nitin Sawhney is a Professor of Practice in the Department of Computer Science at Aalto University and leads the CRAI-CIS (CRitical AI and Crisis Interrogatives) research group. Working at the intersection of Human Computer Interaction (HCI), responsible AI, and participatory design research, he examines the critical role of technology, civic agency, and social justice in society and crisis contexts. Prof. Sawhney has previously conducted research in speech/audio interaction, wearable computing, distributed open source collaboration, civic/participatory media at the MIT Media Lab and The New School.

At Aalto University, he is the principal investigator for a 3-year Academy of Finland research project on Reconstructing Crisis Narratives for Trustworthy Communication and Cooperative Agency, jointly conducted with the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). It aims to analyze crisis narratives using mixed-methods, combining qualitative research with computational data analytics of crisis discourses in news, health communications, and social media. In December 2021, he received an award from the Kone Foundation for a 4-year research project Civic Agency in AI? Democratizing Algorithmic Services in the City (CAAI)In September 2022, he was awarded a Strategic Research Council grant from the Academy of Finland for the project Designing Inclusive & Trustworthy Digital Public Services for Migrants in Finland (Trust-M)

Prof. Sawhney is a member of the research program on AI and Society at the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI). At Aalto University he helped establish the research areas on Digital Ethics, Society and Policy (Digital ESP) and Human-Computer Interaction and Design (HCID). His work has been published in journals including IEEE Multimedia, ACM Transactions on Computer-Human interaction, Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, Planning Practice & Research, AI & Society: Knowledge, Culture and Communication, and Digital Creativity. He is an associate editor for the International Journal of Child Computer Interaction.

He has previously been involved in several tech startups in clinical data platforms and real-time news and social media analysis in Cambridge and New York, and co-directed two feature-length documentary films in Gaza and Guatemala.

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As a Principal Research Scientist at Dataminr, a New York based software startup, Nitin conducted research at the intersection of AI and human-centered design for real-time news as well as critical humanitarian and crisis contexts. He engages UX research, ethnography and multi-modal (speech/audio) interaction to research and design for complex contexts of human-machine interaction.

Nitin Sawhney was previously an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at The New School, and Faculty Fellow with the Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography and Social Thought (GIDEST). His research, teaching and creative practice engaged the critical role of technology, civic media, and artistic interventions in contested spaces. He examined social movements and crisis contexts through forms of creative urban tactics, participatory research, performance, and documentary film.

Zona Intervenida: Performance-based Documentary Film in Guatemala

Nitin completed his Ph.D. at the MIT Media Laboratory in 2003, where he conducted research on distributed collaboration for sustainable design and developed audio-based wearable computing platforms. He taught at the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) in 2010-2011. 

He co-founded Akaza Research, a startup software firm, to develop open source tools and online repositories for public biomedical research with support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and directed new product development at Cytel, Inc. for statistical simulation tools to support adaptive clinical trials.

Nitin was a research affiliate with the MIT Center for Civic Media, where he co-founded the Department of Play, a research collaborative, to design participatory mobile video, mapping and pedagogical tools to support creative expression and civic agency among marginalized youth. He was awarded a Visionary Fellowship at MIT for the Jerusalem 2050 Project in 2008.

Nitin has conducted digital storytelling initiatives with Palestinian youth in refugee camps since 2006 through Voices Beyond Walls, a participatory media initiative he founded. He co-directed the award-winning documentary film Flying Paper, produced with children in Gaza with support from National Geographic. He established the Engage Media Lab at The New School to support participatory media programs and research with youth in Jerusalem and New York.

Guatemala Después: Curatorial Research & Exhibitions

In 2011-12, Nitin led OccupyDataNYC, a series of hackathons and exhibitions visualizing socio-political data and tactics of urban protest, conducted with activists and researchers at The New School, NYU, and CUNY. In 2014-15, he established Guatemala Después, a curatorial research project examining contemporary artistic practices with collaborative exhibitions in Guatemala and New York. He also co-directed the documentary film, Zona Intervenida, examining historic memory through site-specific performance interventions in Guatemala.

In 2016-2017, he devised Sacred Soundwalksa sensory media project and sound installation exploring narrative memory of sacred sites in Kathmandu, Nepal and along historic pilgrimage routes to Mt. Kailash in Tibet. In June 2018, he presented research on “Audio Journaling for Self-Reflection and Participatory Assessment among Teens” at the International Conference on Interaction Design and Children in Trondheim, Norway.

Flying Paper: Documentary Film with youth in Gaza

Nitin’s recent essay “Zona Intervenida: Performance as Memory, Transforming Contested Spaces” was recently published in Rethinking Peace: Discourse, Memory, Translation, and Dialogue, edited by Jeremiah Alberg, Alex Hinton and Giorgio Shani, Rowman & Littlefield International (March 2019). He is currently preparing an essay, “Invisible Lives, Visible Determination”, for the upcoming book Children, Youth and War to be published by University of Georgia Press.

Nitin was nominated faculty fellow for the Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography & Social Thought at the New School in 2018-2019, supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. As part of this fellowship he conducted research on how  contestation and agonism in collective social contexts challenge and transform participatory design, particularly for Civic Design and Urban Mobility Data.

Publications on  Google Scholar  |  ResearchGate  |  Publons

Nitin Sawhney Short CV 2021 (PDF)
Contact: nitin.sawhney AT aalto.fi

Soundscapes of Kora: Sound installation at the Kailash Cartographies Exhibition, The New School, March 2017.

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