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University of Hawaii Working with Indigenous Leaders on AI

The university has tapped a six-year, $17 million grant from Canada's New Frontiers in Research Fund for an international research project to involve Indigenous scholars in the training of new AI models.

(TNS) — The University of Hawaii is among the universities and organizations awarded a $17 million grant to develop artificial intelligence using indigenous knowledge.

The six-year grant was awarded by Canada's New Frontiers in Research Fund for an international research project called, "Abundant Intelligences: Expanding Artificial Intelligence Through Indigenous Knowledge Systems." It will be led by Indigenous co-investigators and collaborators from eight universities and 12 Indigenous community-based organizations from Canada, the United States and New Zealand.

"This is the first time in history that we've got this government funding that is really bringing together this network of Indigenous scholars and researchers, and bringing them into this conversation about the future of technology and Indigenous indigeneity," said Jason Leigh, a UH information and computer sciences professor, who also is the Hawaii principal investigator for the grant.

Teams of students and faculty will be assigned to work in "pods" where they will collaborate with local members of Indigenous communities to develop their AI, Leigh said. Pods from various locations will also periodically convene to exchange their findings and ideas.

The Hawaii pod, Leigh said, will contain about seven to 10 collaborators, and their work will be based at the UH West Oahu Create(x) digital emerging media lab. While those in the Hawaii pod are still exploring ideas for their AI, they are considering practices related to agriculture or language translation technology, among other things, Leigh said.

"All these AI systems are really trained for the most part on Western knowledge, and that kind of leaves the Indigenous population and Indigenous knowledge out of the equation," Leigh said.

The goal is to have Indigenous communities train the AI so that it has a more holistic understanding of the world and the work it commands, he added.

The Hawaii pod also plans to explore data sovereignty in their work, and how Indigenous knowledge should be used and disseminated ethically, said Kamuela Enos, the director of the UH Office of Indigenous Knowledge & Innovation and a co-applicant of the grant.

"Indigenous knowledge is becoming more and more understood, and it's incredibly valuable," Enos said. "We don't want people to think that it's free. ... So how do we participate knowing that our knowledge in some way, shape or form, to these systems, is a commodity?"

Ideally, the project will incorporate accessibility to this knowledge without exploiting the Indigenous community it came from, Leigh explained.

Ultimately, both Enos and Leigh see the project as an opportunity for Indigenous communities to better understand and craft new science and technologies, enabling them to create tools that best reflect Indigenous communities' needs, Enos said.

"Realistically, the end users should be Indigenous communities," Enos said. "They should be using these tools that are created so that they can continue to live in Hawaii, or wherever their homes are, and thrive there."

Linsey Dower covers ethnic and cultural affairs and is a corps member of Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.

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