No Go: The Ironic Challenge of Ethical Sourcing of AI Audio

Davar Ardalan
4 min readMay 7, 2024


AI-generated graphic depicting large language models as unique sound wave forms, with a ‘No Entry’ sign emphasizing the ethical and cultural challenges in audio sourcing

As the founder of a generative AI startup committed to the ethical sourcing of culturally rich audio, the recent decision by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to decline funding for our initiative was more than just a setback — it highlighted a pervasive issue in the realm of AI development.

Our project is designed to be a mobile-first, open-source platform that not only delivers culturally resonant audio in response to user prompts but does so through an ethical lens, ensuring the fair and responsible use of cultural data.

The Irony of Our Situation

The NSF reviewers noted the strong competition from established players like Meta’s AudioCraft, OpenAI’s Jukebox, and Stability AI’s Stable Audio. Yet, none of these platforms emphasize ethical sourcing as a foundational principle. This isn’t just about us not receiving funding; it’s about the broader AI community potentially losing out on a platform that prioritizes cultural respect and ethical norms in technology development.

Furthermore, the reviewers criticized the lack of technical detail in our proposal. This is precisely why the funding was so crucial. We sought NSF support to develop the technology needed to ensure that our sourcing is ethical and our representations are accurate. Without the funding to tackle these complex issues, how are we to advance and refine these necessary technologies?

Software engineer, Ben Castro, shares insights from hisTulipAI research on Meta’s AudioGen and MusicGen within the realm of Mariachi music.

Why This Matters

The implications of overlooking ethical sourcing in AI are significant. As AI technologies become more embedded in our daily lives, the way they handle cultural content will shape societal perceptions and relationships. Ethical sourcing isn’t just a niche concern — it’s essential for creating AI products that are fair, accountable, and representative of the diverse world we live in.

Moreover, the focus on competition over innovation in grant decisions can stifle the very creativity and ethical consideration the field of AI desperately needs. By prioritizing projects that mirror existing successful models, funding bodies may inadvertently discourage breakthroughs in how AI can serve society responsibly.

In 2023, Omidyar Network expressed interest in my work. However, when they learned that my startup operates on a for-profit basis, they informed me that they only provide funding to non-profit organizations.

The Bigger Picture

This isn’t merely about one startup’s challenge in securing funding. It’s a reflection of a larger trend where the emphasis on technical details and market competition overshadows the critical need for ethics in AI development. The decision by the NSF not only impacts TulipAI but also sets a precedent that could discourage other innovators from pursuing projects that prioritize ethical considerations over commercial potential.

Despite this setback, our commitment to developing this product remains unwavering. However, the truth is that we cannot do this alone. The project will likely stall until a nonprofit organization decides to focus on it in earnest, recognizing the critical need for ethically sourced, culturally sensitive AI technologies.

While the NSF’s decision is a significant hurdle, it highlights the urgent need for collective action to fill this vital gap in the AI ecosystem. Our journey is not just about building a product; it’s about advocating for a shift in how the AI community, and its funders, value and prioritize ethical considerations in technological development.

I believe that when ethical sourcing becomes a cornerstone of AI research and development, everyone wins — but achieving this will require more than just one company’s effort. It necessitates a concerted, community-wide commitment to change.

Summary of Reviews A, B, and C:


Cultural Attunement and Ethical Innovation: Emphasize the need for culturally resonant and ethically sourced audio, addressing a gap in current generative AI audio platforms.

Diverse and Qualified Teams: The teams are praised for their qualifications and readiness to handle the projects, bringing a diverse perspective to music generation and audio creation.

Market Potential: The potential market for these products is significant, especially if they can successfully cater to diverse populations and enhance cultural representation.


Vague and Generic Descriptions: Each review points out that the proposals are either too generic or lack specific technical details on how the objectives will be met, particularly in terms of ensuring cultural resonance and ethical sourcing.

Competitive Landscape: A common concern across the proposals is the stiff competition in the market from established players like Meta’s AudioCraft and OpenAI’s Jukebox, which could make it challenging for new entries to distinguish themselves.

Technical Ambiguities: There are criticisms regarding the lack of clarity on how diverse music will be generated and how the proposed platforms will integrate and leverage existing technologies or develop their own.

This content was created with the help of artificial intelligence, which helped organize the narrative, check grammar, and summarize important information to improve clarity and flow.

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Davar Ardalan

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