Indigenous protocols and artificial intelligence

April 17, 2019

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Caleb Moses recently spent time in Hawaiʻi at a workshop exploring the relationship between indigeneous protocols and artificial intelligence, as part of a New Zealand group led by Peter-Lucas Jones and Keoni Mahelona from Te Hiku Media.

About 30 people from a wide range of backgrounds also attended – including software engineers in big companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook – as well as artists and activists. According to Caleb, the aim of the workshop was to “put a bunch of smart people in one place and start talking together about what indigenous AI could look like.”

People at the AI workshop were excited to learn about the work that Te Hiku Media have been leading, to create a speech recognition system for Te Reo Māori.

“A lot of people were inspired (to put it mildly) by the work we’d done”, he says. “In terms of indigenous language, there isn’t anything similar going on overseas just yet. I learned that other indigenous cultures look to Māori as an example of indigenous cultural preservation. If you put our work in a broader context, it becomes clear how important it is.”

The workshop discussions were guided by questions like: from an indigenous perspective, what should our relationship with AI be, and how could the role of technology in society become broader than the culturally homogenous research labs and Silicon Valley start-up culture?

“My feeling is that the potential of AI for social harm is already quite well covered in public discussions. For example, we don’t want unethical smart policing but we do want better health outcomes.

“I’m particularly interested in how we can use AI to create new repositories for indigenous knowledge. Automated speech recognition for te reo Māori is an example of that – it expresses indigenous culture and language and exists to help tangata whenua.”

Caleb also joined Peter-Lucas and Keoni at the International Conference on Language Documentation & Conservation, where they presented te reo Māori speech recognition work in a talk called ‘Kaitiakitanga: community-led guardianship and automatic speech recognition for Te Reo Māori’.

“It was fascinating to be in Hawaiʻi – I particularly enjoyed learning about their culture and colonial history. Fortunately I made friends with Dr Noelani Arista at the AI workshop – she’s a native Kanaka Māoli history professor from the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa – who shared some great insights and answered my many questions.”

Conference participants, painted by watercolour artist Sergio Garzon (Instagram).
Conference participants, painted by watercolour artist Sergio Garzon (Instagram).

He says one insight was hearing about the archive of newspapers from as early as 1834, in which the Kanaka Māoli documented their collective knowledge and satisfied their curiosity for the outside world.

“One had a big picture of an elephant on page 2 and lots of detailed information about where they live and what they eat, like an encyclopedia. The newspapers also contain important cultural knowledge like funeral chants, which people are still practicing today.”

Caleb says the newspapers are an example of the different types of data and information repositories that exist for indigenous knowledge. He also said it was interesting to see and hear about different international perspectives on how knowledge can be cared for and used.

In New Zealand we focus a lot on how we can make things better here and because of that I think we tend to be ahead of the curve, especially in indigenous matters.

Read more about the indigenous protocols and artificial intelligence workshop or about the Kōrero Māori project.