Empowering Voices: Bridging Persian Heritage with AI’s Future

Davar Ardalan
3 min readAug 13, 2023
Toronto-based artist, Phoenix Pagliacci performing her song “One Zan”

On July 21, amidst the technological fervor of the iBridges summit in Toronto, as the audience awaited the panel on AI, they were blindsided by an unexpected guest. Toronto’s own Phoenix Pagliacci graced the stage, captivating us with her hauntingly beautiful song, “One Zan” (One Woman).

Her melody, a heartfelt cry against the narrow perspective often imposed on women, struck a chord with those present. But what made this performance even more special was its inclusion in the Amazon Alexa skill “Freedom Speaks,” which is currently in beta.

Listen to Phoenix Pagliaci’s soulful song “One Zan” here (many thanks to Push Audio)

“Freedom Speaks” isn’t merely a tech gadget — it’s a torch for empowerment. By showcasing poems, stories, and songs from resilient Iranian women across ages, it stands as a tribute to their indomitable spirit. It’s a timeless bridge, connecting tales of past heroines with the present, underscoring the legacy of women who’ve battled challenges and remain resilient.

Innovative Alexa skills like “Freedom Speaks” can redefine how we perceive technology’s potential in elevating marginalized voices and all the ways they can help generate new datasets to improve AI tools. The voice AI was produced by a global team of Women in Voice from October 2022-February 2023 led by storytelling technologist Iran Davar Ardalan.

Ardalan and Pagliacci at the iBridges Summit in Toronto.

The stories and poems were recorded as part of a storytelling festival called Roars and Whispers led by Ardalan and veteran NPR journalist Jacki Lyden together with author Azar Nafisi, novelist Alice McDermott, professor and author Farzaneh Milani, professor Jennifer James, author and women’s rights activist Mahnaz Afkhami, poet Leeya Mehta, singer songwriter Phoenix Pagliacci, performance artist Esha Sadr, and artist Saeideh Gilani, among others.

By immersing users in the rich fabric of Iranian culture and female empowerment, “Freedom Speaks” shatters clichés and expands worldviews. Young Iranian girls can see themselves in these tales, reinforcing the message that their voices and dreams are invaluable.

Discover more about “Freedom Speaks” here.

The iBridges summit then pivoted to a discussion on Generative AI and Large Language Models. The conversations spotlighted the pivotal role of the Iranian tech diaspora in AI’s evolution, especially the hurdles in bolstering Persian language support. Panelists included:

  • Amir Feizpour, the brain behind Aggregate Intellect (ai.science), crafting a generative business brain for service and science-centric firms, and nurturing a global community of over 5000 AI aficionados.
  • Linda Zadeh, the visionary CEO of EPIC Semiconductors, who’s pioneering self-powered, self-learning nanochips that emulate neural functions, heralding a new era in ambient intelligence.
  • Sahar Nezami, a seasoned leader at the Bank of Canada, with an impressive 18-year track record of spearheading data and analytics teams across diverse sectors.
  • Iran Davar Ardalan, a veteran journalist formerly with NPR News and National Geographic. Founder of TulipAI, a media and AI venture. Ardalan is working alongside teams of AI scientists to create next generation content experiences.

Watch the panel on Generative AI,LLM, and the State of Persian Language Support here.

Addressing the gaps in platforms like Google Translate and AWS, the panelists championed the diaspora’s potential in crafting bespoke AI text and text to speech models to enhance communication and cultural exchange. They underscored the transformative power of integrating Persian heritage into AI.

Creating tools such as the Persian equivalent of Alexa/Siri and ChatGPT, is not far fetched, by improving Iranian language texts and text-to-speech models with AI, NLP, and social science specialists, this can be done. All discoveries can be open-sourced.

The panelists underscored the transformative power of integrating Persian heritage into AI, as exemplified by the “Freedom Speaks” Alexa experience.

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Davar Ardalan

Founder TulipAI. National Geographic, NPR News, SecondMuse, White House PIF Alum.