Future Positive
Future Positive
Oct 23, 2020
Using AI to Preserve Indigenous Knowledge
Play • 46 min

For many indigenous communities, passing down knowledge to the next generation is critical to cultural survival. The preservation of these cultures have traditionally been done through the study and documentation of languages, traditions and rituals. In today’s episode, we’ll start by hearing from Burr Settles, Head of Research and AI at Duolingo, and go into a discussion between Davar Ardalan from IVOW AI, AI writer Chamisa Edmo, Alva Lim from Agora Food Studio, AI Researcher Victor Yarlott, and Tracy Monteith, Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft who spent 20 years putting the Cherokee language in Microsoft Word. Recorded at AI for Good, a global summit hosted by ITU and XPRIZE, our guests dive into the role AI can play in helping ensure that our collective knowledge, histories and cultures will be around for generations to come.

Burr Settles leads the research group at Duolingo, an award-winning website and mobile app offering free language education for the world. He also runs FAWM.ORG, a global annual songwriting experiment. He is the author of Active Learning — an intermediate text on machine learning algorithms that are adaptive, curious, and exploratory (if you will). His research has been published in NeurIPS, ICML, AAAI, ACL, EMNLP, NAACL-HLT, and CHI, and has been covered by The New York Times, Slate, Forbes, WIRED, and the BBC among others. In past lives, he was a postdoc at Carnegie Mellon and earned a PhD from UW-Madison. Burr currently lives in Pittsburgh, where he gets around by bike and plays guitar in the pop band delicious pastries.

Davar is a tech entrepreneur and founder of IVOW AI. Prior to this, she was Deputy Director of the Presidential Innovation Fellowship Program in Washington D.C. and before that a veteran journalist at NPR News. In 2015, her last position at NPR was senior producer of the Identity and Culture Unit.

Chamisa Edmo is a citizen of the Navajo Nation, Blackfeet and Shoshone-Bannock and resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous and American Indian Studies, with an emphasis in Tribal Sovereignty, from Haskell Indian Nations University. She is currently working toward a Masters in Computer Science. She is a certified full stack developer and has worked on various web development and robotics projects in her post-baccalaureate career. Chamisa worked for Hanson Robotics as a conversational AI character writer for Sophia the Robot and at CNM Ingenuity as an Assistant Instructor for the Deep Dive Coding Fullstack Bootcamp. In addition to high tech projects, Chamisa is also interested in exploring how North American tribes and Indigenous populations around the world can leverage technology while exercising tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

Agora Food Studio is a plant-foward restaurant created by the Timor-Leste Food Lab - a social enterprise dedicated to mentoring future food and coffee innovators. The Timor-Leste Food Lab represents a community of people that believe in a simple, but powerful idea: "Food should be good, clean and fair for producers, eaters and the environment. We believe in a food system that celebrates biodiversity and nourishes the planet; a food system that creates healthy communities where everyone can eat, and eat well." We are based in Timor-Leste, located 8.8 degrees south of the equator. This half-island nation is part of a greater archipelagic region with profound food diversity and bio-cultural history that we hope to research, experiment, taste and document, and then share to a wider audience. Every day is an exploration.

Tracy Monteith is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee and Senior Software Engineer at Microsoft. His decades-long work as an innovative technologist and leader have produced unique results on a global scale. Tracy has received a first place finish in world’s largest private hackathon (23K participants, 400 cities world-wide) for AI approach to translating tribal-polymorphic languages and a second place finish for an IoT, cloud-connected beehive-sensor array. His passion for hackathons is shared with thousands of STEM-focussed tribal students across North America as he conducts hackathons for tribal schools. Tracy was the driving force and technical-innovator behind the inclusion of the Cherokee Syllabary in Windows and Office, the first tribal language with that distinction. His work continues with enhancing polymorphic-languages preservation and dissemination through the infusion of appropriate technology into indigenous circles.

Wolfgang Victor Yarlott is a member of the Native American Crow tribe. Yarlott’s pioneering research took place with the Genesis Story Understanding System at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. In collaboration with his Professor Patrick Winston, Yarlott wanted to determine whether the system could understand stories from Crow folklore as well as it understood the works of Shakespeare. At first his “audience” was the program itself — he wanted to instill an understanding.



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