IP-AI •FEBRUARY 18, 2019
What does the future look like for AI?
Caroline Running Wolf (Crow Nation), nee Old Coyote, is an enrolled member of the Apsáalooke Nation (Crow) in Montana, with a Swabian (German) mother and also Pikuni, Oglala, and Ho-Chunk heritage. She attended the March 2019 Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence workshops in Hawai’i. Here she explores the future of AI.
As a preschooler I was fascinated by my friend’s parents, who have been researching and trying to develop an artificial intelligence for a large company since the 1960’s. Whenever I checked in with them, every decade or so, they laughed it off and confided in me that artificial “intelligence” still had a long way to go to fill the shoes of that label.
Today we have achieved a certain level of (almost) artificial intelligence—for clearly delineated, specific tasks. Much of this is still based on computational pattern recognition through large amounts of data. Machines still can’t learn and infer context like humans can. But humans are the ones programming these machines—and it shows.
On a regular basis reports surface about AI powered software with racial or gender bias. Earlier this month a Twitter user posted a screenshot of a suggested correction by Grammarly, an online grammar and contextual spell checking platform. Grammarly had an issue with an “unusual word pair” and suggested to combine the noun “girl” with an adjective other than “successful,” positing that synonyms like “lucky” or “happy” might be more fitting. Facial recognition software jumps from a 1% error margin for light-skinned males to over 35% for dark-skinned women. Despite the obvious bias in current AI systems, Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, concludes her February 7, 2019 Time article on a hopeful note:
“I am optimistic that there is still time to shift towards building ethical and inclusive AI systems that respect our human dignity and rights. By working to reduce the exclusion overhead and enabling marginalized communities to engage in the development and governance of AI, we can work toward creating systems that embrace full spectrum inclusion. In addition to lawmakers, technologists, and researchers, this journey will require storytellers who embrace the search for truth through art and science. Storytelling has the power to shift perspectives, galvanize change, alter damaging patterns, and reaffirm to others that their experiences matter. That’s why art can explore the emotional, societal, and historical connections of algorithmic bias in ways academic papers and statistics cannot. And as long as stories ground our aspirations, challenge harmful assumptions, and ignite change, I remain hopeful.”1
I agree with Joy Buolamwini. Despite currently manifested biases and limitations, the future for AI is still malleable. Our workshop is not a day too early!
Today’s implementations of AI are already very promising. Personally, I am excited about the possibilities of AI, especially what speech recognition, Natural Language Processing (NLP) and chat bots offer for the revitalization of endangered Indigenous
languages. This is the field that I am passionate about and I am willing to recruit the help of any technology available for this goal. I realize that the amount of data needed for NLP to generate speech and interactions for Indigenous languages are a major hurdle—but just imagine the possibilities!
Some endangered Indigenous languages have only a handful of fluent speakers left. These speakers are elderly. Our time with them is limited and we have to use it wisely. We shouldn’t waste their energy and knowledge by making them teach language beginners or having them translate individual words for a dictionary. Technology can assist with these simple tasks. In the future, home assistants could be programmed to recognize and respond in Indigenous languages, allowing language learners to apply and practice their language skills. Real-time translation could translate websites and social media as well as dub TV shows and movies. We could interact with video game characters in our Indigenous language, engaging in human-like conversations. With the help of current and future AI technologies we can build language tools that expand our everyday usage of Indigenous languages.
No technology can replace humans and true human interaction but just like other technologies that came before it, artificial intelligence can change our lives. My hope is that AI will also have a major effect on the reclamation of our Indigenous languages.
Buolamwini, J. (2019, February 7). Artificial intelligence has a problem with gender and racial bias. Here’s how to solve it. Time. Retrieved from time.com/5520558/artificial-intelligence-racial-gender-bias.
1. Joy Buolamwini, “Artificial intelligence has a problem with gender and racial bias. Here’s how to solve it,” Time, February 7, 2019 <time.com/5520558/artificial-intelligence-racial-gender-bias>.
Caroline Running Wolf (Crow Nation), nee Old Coyote, is an enrolled member of the Apsáalooke Nation (Crow) in Montana, with a Swabian (German) mother and also Pikuni, Oglala, and Ho-Chunk heritage. As the daughter of nomadic parents, she grew up between USA, Canada, and Germany. Thanks to her genuine interest in people and their stories, she is a multilingual Cultural Acclimation Artist dedicated to supporting Indigenous language and culture vitality. After working for over 15 years as a professional nerd herder and business consultant in various fields, Running Wolf co-founded a nonprofit, Buffalo Tongue, with her husband, Michael Running Wolf. Together they create virtual and augmented reality experiences to advocate for Native American voices, languages, and cultures. Running Wolf has a Master’s degree in Native American Studies from Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
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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