Building Beneficial AI and Cultural Metadata that Counts

by Davar Ardalan and Robert Malesky

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On Monday April 23, some 50 thought leaders will join us at Morgan State University for our inaugural Artificial Intelligence, Culture and Storytelling Symposium. Representatives from the United Nations, educators, business leaders as well as renowned machine learning experts from across the US and Mexico — including Rafael Pérez y Pérez, Mark Riedl, Mark Finlayson, Marine Carpuat and Wolfgang Victor Yarlott, will participate in the symposium to engage in the latest research on AI as a tool for culturally rich storytelling.

In a video message to be shared at the symposium, AI and Storytelling expert Boyang “Albert” Li talks about the imperative of focusing on culture in AI. “In a world that’s getting flatter, it’s even more important that we recognize and appreciate cultural diversity, which helps us avoid the trap of herd mentality. That’s why I think IVOW’s work on using AI to preserve culture is interesting and important.” Li is currently a Senior Research Scientist at the Liulishuo (LingoChamp) Silicon Valley AI Lab. Prior to that, he was a Research Scientist at Disney Research.

We, as human beings, are still feeling our way through the new world of Artificial Intelligence. Even though the field has been around for some time, its philosophical underpinnings are still in a nascent stage. Perhaps it is worthwhile to remember something the late Stephen Hawking once said, “We should shift the goal of AI from creating pure undirected artificial intelligence to creating beneficial intelligence. It might take decades to figure out how to do this, so let’s start researching this today.”

We agree. One of the ways we want to create beneficial intelligence at IVOW is by using AI technology to explore diverse cultures and make them more accessible, understandable, and relatable to a broad public. We do this through storytelling. Our stories will be drawn from an extensive array of sources, and will serve to put a human face on facts, figures, and cultural heritage. To do this, we are developing our own technology platform, where we’ll apply metadata to identify cultural content in texts, images, audio, video, 360 video and VR.

As an illustration of what’s possible, let’s look at Hispanic culture here in the United States. The largest minority population in the US, Latino Americans number more than 57 million, and that is expected to double by 2060. The culture is rich, varied, and composed of countless strands of folklore, music, literature, and history.

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Our team of journalists and data scientists are collaborating with renowned ethnographer/photographer Miguel Gandert focusing on the Mexican cultural traditions of the American Southwest. Gandert was born in Española in 1956, and raised in Santa Fe where he developed an interest in photography. Since then he has captured in pictures not only the people and landscape of New Mexico, but their history, culture, and social norms as well. Gandert is also a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.

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Gandert’s rich collection of images together with the narratives written by our journalists informed IVOW’s Deep Learning Model to be culturally conscious as we tagged and applied metadata in new and dynamic ways. “I am excited about the aspirations of IVOW and AI and the potential for pioneering programs that explore various cultures and traditions, facilitating greater understanding of the world we live in,” says Gandert.

IVOW’s academic partnerships and affiliations include Stanford, Morgan State University and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), home to one of the largest tribal college engineering programs in the United States, received funding from the NASA Tribal College and University Experiential Learning Opportunity (TCU-ELO) to allow students to work with rovers in a simulated Martian environment called a Mars yard and to expose Native American students to more science and math courses.

Dr. Nader Vadiee, leads the Engineering Program at SIPI. “As a member of a Consortium of thirteen Tribal Colleges and Universities, SIPI is excited to both contribute and benefit from the expanded opportunities that we can provide our students in Artificial Intelligence and Big Data application in culturally inclusive story telling as well as connecting to other indigenous communities worldwide and leveraging the IVOW efforts to create educational technology opportunities that otherwise do not exist.”

Richard Murdock is a Partner and CFO at RONA Holdings LLC — a venture investment firm located in Silicon Valley, specializing in early stage companies and recently became an advisor to IVOW. “I am excited to be a member of the team at IVOW and look forward to assisting them to grow the company and seek out interested parties and investors to partner with.”

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What is it that makes us human? The question has been asked for eons. Many think that the ability to tell stories is one of the essential elements that separates human intelligence from other forms. Can artificial intelligence tell stories as well? If we do it right, it can. And one of the ways of doing it right is by giving voice to all the branches of the human family, so that the myriad customs, traditions, cultures, social norms — all those threads that make up the human tapestry — become part of our storytelling. And perhaps more than just a part; perhaps they comprise the soul of our storytelling.

That is what IVOW aims to do.

If you’d like to know more about our work and upcoming symposium go to www.ivow.ai, scroll down and ask IVOW, our storytelling bot in training. Tip: Ask IVOW to tell you about a story from our database or more about Miguel Gandert or what IVOW means.

Robert Malesky leads content creation at IVOW. Robert is a 30-year veteran at National Public Radio as Senior Producer of NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. Over the course of his career, he worked in both arts and news coverage, winning a number of broadcasting awards. Since leaving NPR he has published a photographic history of the Catholic University of America, his alma mater, and writes a well-received blog on local history called Bygone Brookland.

Davar Ardalan is the founder and storyteller in chief of IVOW, an AI-powered storytelling agency and Stanford Affiliate. Ardalan co-chairs the Stories and Audiences Committee of the VR/AR Association, and has been recognized with a 2017 NASA Team Leadership award for Space Apps, a Gracie Award from the American Women in Radio and Television and a shout-out in the popular comic strip Zippy.

IVOW Founder and Storyteller in Chief

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