South African Roots, Travel Shape Computer Scientist’s Research

December 01, 2020

A new profile by Katrina Miller for the Physical Sciences Division website profiles UChicago CS assistant professor Marshini Chetty, charting her path from South Africa to Chicago and how she chose the field of human-computer interaction.

The article also focuses on Chetty’s current work in her Amyoli Internet Research Lab, dedicated to making the web more trustworthy and inclusive. “Amyoli” is a name in Xhosa, a South African language, that means “the clan is happy.”

“My work is very much focused on people,” explains Chetty, when asked about the research she leads. “What do people need? What do they want out of technology? And how can we meet those needs?” 

The answers to these questions are quite broad, allowing researchers in the AIR Lab to study a wide variety of topics. They target everything from how internet users interact with misinformation online, to the safe usage of smart home devices, to the development of tools for children to learn the basics of online privacy and security. 

Chetty also devotes much of her research to improving the internet user experience for what she calls “resource-constrained” populations, such as marginalized and low-income communities. “My work is also very much focused on making the internet a more inclusive place,” she says. 

This particular goal stems from personal experience: Chetty grew up under apartheid, a legal system of racial division in South Africa not unlike the Jim Crow laws of the US’s not-so-distant past. “I saw what it meant to be historically excluded, because I myself was historically excluded and marginalized in my own country,” she recalls. “Because of that background, it’s very important for me to try and make impact in whatever way I can to help people overcome these challenges.”

You can read more about Chetty’s research in our UChicago CS profile and an article on her research on “dark patterns” that retailers use to manipulate the behavior of online shoppers.