Nitin Sawhney is a Professor of Practice in the Department of Computer Science at Aalto University. As a human-centered design researcher he examines the critical role of technology, civic media, and urban interventions in crisis and contested spaces. Nitin engages user experience design, participatory action research, sensory ethnography, and multi-modal (speech/audio) approaches for complex contexts of human-machine interaction. He has been conducting research at the intersection of AI and HCI for real-time news as well as humanitarian and crisis situations.
At Aalto University, Nitin has embarked on a new research project on Reconstructing Crisis Narratives for Trustworthy Communication and Cooperative Agency. This research jointly conducted between Aalto University and THL proposes to analyze and reconstruct crisis narratives using mixed-methods, combining qualitative research for narrative inquiry with computational data analytics of crisis discourses in news and social media among diverse publics. The project plans to design tools and platforms representing and visualizing complex information to engage decision-makers, front-line responders, stakeholders, and the general public in making sense of crises and perceptions of risk and trust.
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.
Nitin served as an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at The New School from 2011 onwards where he established the Engage Media Lab to support participatory media, research and civic agency among youth and marginalized communities. 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.
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 Soundwalks, a 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 2018 he was awarded a prestigious faculty research fellowship with the Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography and Social Thought (GIDEST), supported by 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. Most recently as 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.