IP-AI • FEBRUARY 28, 2019
I ka wā ma mua, ka wā ma hope /The future is secured by the past
Dr. Noelani Arista (Kanaka Maoli), Researcher, Writer, Historian, is Associate Professor of Hawaiian and American History at the University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa. She attended the March 2019 Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence workshops in Hawai’i. Here she explores the future of AI.
My interest in AI is a continuation of the central concern of my work: that ancestral knowledge, deeply and broadly conceived will be carried over into ‘the digital,’ continuing into the future as it has until now; what Fox Harrell states is a “cultural computing perspective,” which “entails performing research and practices that engage commonly excluded cultural values and activities to spur socially and critically valuable computational innovation,” is an exciting concept to me.¹ In my thinking in relation to his proposition, I see how Hawaiian cultural production is held multiply as exclusive as excluded, at the same time.
The challenge of my work has always been how to supply access to the enormity of Hawaiian knowledges and to place them back in the everyday lives of the lāhui (the people, the nation, the community). ‘The digital’ poses particular challenges to the continuance of Hawaiian knowledge, in the sense that its progress doesn’t leave room for the ravages which colonialism has wrought.²
As a historian I study the period in Hawaiian history where the technologies of the palapala (writing and print) were introduced. I have investigated how an oral/aural culture negotiated the simultaneity and transformation by, and into, the textual, how, in the 19th century kānaka maoli secured that knowledge through that transition, study which is vital to my various projects: to rebuild and understand the ontological, the epistemological, knowing and how we know, and the structures through which knowledge, story, practice, were passed on.
My research, translation and written work has focused on the training of Hawaiian intellectuals, how memories were carved (kālai ʻia) and structured to receive large amounts of data and how that data was retrieved and mobilized for particular purposes, under a regime disciplined by kapu.³ I am studying and helping to shape the transmediation of moʻolelo (history, story, authoritative speech) from textual forms into digital formats that are methodologically resonant with customary modes of transmitting knowledge.4 I want to see these theories borne out, and I believe that Hawaiian knowledge, since we have the largest textual archive in Native North America and the Polynesian Pacific, can be an important site to contribute to what Harrell identifies in his work as an “integrative cultural system.” In thinking of these systems, I am also cognizant of the limits which we in islandic communities might impose on (over)development. Several blogs have highlighted the pitfalls of colonial and capitalist tendencies trending towards extraction and consumption, and so I approach the excesses of digital formats with my desire to do what my kūpuna did, to ward knowledge (kapu), protecting it from shallow projections and proliferations which ultimately may cause lasting damage to the foundations of ʻike because of the rapidity with which incorrect, and inexact knowledge can be spread, supported, and ‘shared.’ Finally, I am interested in how digital formats can be Indigenized to facilitate our movement between the textual and the auditory, how to train these systems in a way that support our need to continue the passing on of our customary knowledges, histories and stories, through which the lāhui will continue to thrive.
Harrell, D. F. (2013). Phantasmal media: An approach to imagination, computation, and expression. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Harrell, D. F. (2019, June 6). Cultural computing/ Indigenous values. Indigenous AI. Retrieved from indigenous-ai.net/cultural-computing-indigenous-values.
1. D. Fox Harrell & Danielle Olson, “Cultural computing/Indigenous values,” Indigenous AI, June 6, 2019 <indigenous-ai.net/cultural-computing-indigenous-values> 167.
2. In my praxis language looms large as that which constructs the affective, the mode through which feeling and connection to kūpuna flows. Colonial processes hastened the loss of language and customary practice in ways that have left people with symptoms of memory loss, the inability to communicate feeling through language, and since healing was dependent to some extent upon prayer, it has given us a more difficult pathway to healing and self expression.
3. ‘Data’ as in customary chant, prayer, law, history, story, some of which were quite lengthy, kept and passed on orally in a disciplined manner; and yet, these customary forms of knowledge cannot be reduced to an impersonal concept of data as unmediated by relationships. After the introduction of the printing press in 1820, many of these were re-recorded in writing and print. In addition to these new compositions moved from speech into text.
4. Moʻolelo—succession of speech acts, history, and story.
Dr. Noelani Arista (Kanaka Maoli), Researcher, Writer, Historian, is Associate Professor of Hawaiian and American History at the University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa. Her research and writing focus on Hawaiian religious, legal, and intellectual history. Dr. Arista’s current projects further the persistence of Hawaiian historical knowledge and Hawaiian language textual archives through multiple digital mediums including gaming. Dr. Arista is known for her work in developing new approaches and methods for writing Hawaiian history up from customary modes of keeping Hawaiian knowledge. Her work has also focused on precision in crafting historical contexts as an important first step in approaching the interpretation and translation of Hawaiian language sources. Her work in historiography, the training of Hawaiian intellectuals, as well as translation has prepared her for considering larger questions of cognition, and how artificial intelligence might be created and approached on Hawaiian terms. She mentors many students, instructing them in how to conduct research in Hawaiian language textual archives, and through online digital mediums. She was a contributing author to "Making Kin with Machines," an essay about Indigenous views on Artificial Intelligence, one of ten award winning essays in the MIT competition, Resisting Reduction. Her book The Kingdom and the Republic: Sovereign Hawaiʻi and the Early United States was published by PENN press in 2019. Her creative projects include the extensive facebook archive of mele, translation and photos that she wrote and compiled, 365 Days of Aloha.
The Indigenous Protocols and Artificial Intelligence (IP-AI) workshops are founded by Old Ways, New, and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures. This work is funded by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), Old Ways, New, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Concordia University Research Chair in Computational Media and the Indigenous Future Imaginary.
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