UH Joins Effort to Improve AI Through Indigenous Knowledge

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The University of Hawaii is part of an international group of researchers and indigenous practitioners that has been awarded a $17-million ($23 million Canadian) grant from Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund to work on improving artificial intelligence (AI) through indigenous knowledge.

The project, “Abundant Intelligences: Expanding Artificial Intelligence through Indigenous Knowledge Systems,” is indigenous-led and involves 37 co-investigators and collaborators from eight universities and 12 indigenous community-based organizations from Canada, the United States and New Zealand.

The teams will coalesce in locally rooted “pods” to collaborate with indigenous communities. In this way, each team will learn from, and alongside, Indigenous knowledge keepers to bring novel perspectives to transforming AI.

“The Hawaii Pod will be a key site and significant resource for Abundant Intelligences. Hawaii has one of the greatest concentrations of indigenous technological talent in the world,” said Concordia University Professor Jason Lewis, who is the principal investigator for the grant. “It has already played a key role in the indigenous AI discussion by hosting the Indigenous Protocol and AI Workshops in 2019. These were grounded in part in the extensive and vibrant discussion within the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) community regarding the long history of kanaka innovation, and how that community has always developed and taken advantage of new technological tools and methods.”

Weaving a lei

The Hawaii pod will be based at UH West Oahu’s Create(x) digital emerging media lab.

“You see in Create(x) there are a lot of flowers on the table to weave a lei from,” said UH Director of Indigenous Innovation Kamuela Enos, who was a co-applicant for the grant. “What’s really important is that we will do it all in mindfulness of what is our responsibility as Hawaiians to protect our [intellectual property] and its use, which is always front of mind for us.”

Other UH co-applicants included:

  • Jason Leigh, UH Mānoa professor of information and computer sciences
  • Bryan Kuwada, UH Mānoa assistant professor of Hawaiian studies
  • Susan Crow, UH Mānoa assistant professor of natural resources and environmental management
  • Manulani Meyer, UH West Oahu konohiki (facilitator) of Kūlana o Kapole​i

Leigh, founding director of Create(x) and co-director of the Hawaii Data Science Institute said, “AI will impact every part of our lives in this decade and beyond. This project is an unprecedented opportunity to influence the future of AI to make it more inclusive in its use, development and evolution.”

Create(x)

Person standing next to a glowing blue digital projection

The Create(x) lab is located in the new Academy for Creative Media (ACM) building and features projection onto three walls and the floor for various virtual environments. The lab provides students access to immersive technologies where diverse projects—designed to perpetuate indigenous knowledge and narratives—range from visualizing the first few lines of the Kumulipo (Hawaiian creation chant), teaching Hawaiian vocabulary of native species and environmental change, modern Hawaiian wayfinding and the retelling of famous moʻolelo (stories).

Create(x) co-director and Hawaii Pod Coordinator Kari Noe said she is excited about the opportunity to discuss how the grant may translate to current and future projects and overall protocol and data management.

“[The grant] is giving us the capability, resources and time to think through and talk through a new way of interacting with technology that AI is providing us,” Noe said.

The $37-million state-of-the-art ACM facility opened in 2021 as part of the UH ACM System, which supports 16 programs at all 10 campuses statewide.

ACM System Founder and Director Chris Lee added, “This extraordinary grant is exactly the kind of opportunity envisioned when including the specific space for Create(x) in the design for the ACM Student Production Facility at UH West Oahu. Congratulations to everyone at both campuses on the success of this first collaboration between ACM supported programs at UH Mānoa and UH West Oahu.”

Genealogy of a grant

The Abundant Intelligences grant is for six years and includes funding to involve other community-based experts and for community engagement events. UH’s share is approximately $850,000 Canadian or $637,500 U.S.

Enos pointed out that the grant also has a “genealogy.” In 2019, Lewis co-organized with Leigh and others the series of workshops in Hawaii on indigenous AI, which resulted in a position paper, “Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence” (PDF) that was published in 2020.

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