Whose culture does Artificial Intelligence represent and which human needs does it prioritize?

Davar Ardalan
5 min readMay 31, 2022


IVOW AI symposium at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland

Together with our team, I have made the very difficult decision to end IVOW AI. We are immensely proud of the impact of our work in this space, and of the joint efforts that went into the realization of our research and case studies. We weren’t able to take this work to the next level, but perhaps you can. If you are in the field of AI, please continue to ask: Whose culture does Artificial Intelligence (AI) represent and which human needs does it prioritize?

Our value proposition was clear:

In order to build and support intelligent AIs that are more culturally-aware, we need to provide a source of data to develop, train, and test with. These data knowledge or culture engines can supplement larger datasets to help train AI systems. In this way, AI can be part of the preservation of culture and tradition.

In the past four years, we believe we persuaded the global AI community to acknowledge and confront issues of bias and underrepresentation in voice and data, and to begin to find solutions.

As a team, we are sharing our learnings as we part ways with our Silicon Valley-style startup. Our report, published in full on Issuu, outlines our case studies and research. The reasons for our demise are simple and yet complex:

Investors: There is no appetite on the part of investors to fund a for-profit startup that focuses on cultural AI;

Data Sovereignty: At IVOW, we believe that indigenous communities and all underserved communities in AI systems should have sovereignty over their own data. We wish we had funding to help create these knowledge engines responsibly but alas we don’t;

Monetization Formula: There is no monetization formula for a startup to focus on sourcing good data on women or to curate stories of women within the context of datasets. There is only an appetite to show customers and revenue. There is no willingness to pause and think of beneficial AI.This lack of vision on the part of VCs and investors will cripple the development of AI, but they see it as primarily the role of nonprofits.

What led to our final decision?

In early May 2022, IVOW had a powerful role as part of the United Nations SDG Summit on advancing the concept of digitizing Indigenous Knowledge. Our work was singled out specifically by the organizers at the end. Our presentation on indigenous knowledge engines was captivating and seemingly enlightening to all. In addition there were fantastic indigenous speakers from US/Alaska, Bolivia, and Colombia sharing their critical views. They also commended us for our work on the Laleh Knowledge Lake and honoring my mother’s wisdom through conversational AI.

The strongest words of wisdom came at the end from Gabriel Muyuy Jacanamejoy, who serves as a representative of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia. He was profound in his pronouncement that the next step is for Indigenous peoples to discuss this idea within their communities. They should become active players in deciding which parts of their knowledge they wish to share digitally with machines/AI, even as UN policymakers continue research and pushing for the creation of a platform.

It was clear to our team that in the current framework of IVOW AI, we won’t be able to move ahead. There is zero interest on the part of investors to pay for something that can’t be monetized. Our mission has always been to further the work of cultural AI and underrepresented voices through storytelling.

All of us at IVOW do plan to keep all our learnings as we continue our journeys in new ways. For me that means in my leadership role as a tech journalist and storyteller at National Geographic.

The following testimonials come from our IVOW collaborators and champions who supported our case studies. We proved that the frontier of cultural intelligence in AI will require a new data ecology, inclusive datasets and traditional storytelling solutions:

“The work IVOW has done on both indigenous knowledge and stories of women has highlighted the massive need for broader involvement in Artificial Intelligence and brought this need to a global stage. This work has demonstrated that not only are there people around the world who wish to see themselves represented more fully in AI, but that there is a recognition in both the AI community and a broader community concerned with representation and sustainability that this is a deeply important problem. Let there be no mistake — there is a substantial need in AI to eliminate bias by including a broader set of perspectives to improve how AI makes decisions and is able to handle novel situations, and the work IVOW has done towards demonstrating that to the global community is invaluable.” — Victor Yarlott, AI Researcher


“AI is developing at a breathtaking pace, with mammoth datasets being created from trillions of interactions between humans. At the same time, the world seems to be increasingly culturally intolerant and socially polarized. AI can bring the world together by increasing cross-cultural understanding at scale. With the proliferation of smart phones, personal devices, chatbots, and game avatars, we are talking to machines more than humans. Through creating culturally relevant datasets, IVOW has contributed to ensuring cultures around the world are preserved, enriched, used, shared, and loved, as technology becomes an integral part of our lives. This is critical to ensuring we develop AI that is ethical and beneficial to human development. Also, under the purpose-and passion-led leadership of Davar, IVOW has been spearheading innovative programs to promote more culturally inclusive mindsets and to raise awareness of women’s achievements in technology. I would like to thank IVOW for bearing the torch in the past few years. We need to stay on this path to ensure humanity continues to thrive.” — Jeanne Lim, BeingAI


“When I came across IVOW in my research, I thought it was a story people needed to hear. With AI and big data, it feels impossible for the average person to feel any sense of representation, agency, or control over what’s coming. Yet, here was a devoted group of people who were trying to bring that agency to folks, and create a more humane, representative digital world. Not only are they using storytelling to cultivate a richer digital space for everyone, but they are helping preserve and make accessible the stories of those who have been historically, and presently, marginalized. We all benefit from this work.” - Alex V. Cipolle, New York Times Freelance Reporter

IVOW’s Davar Ardalan, Kee Malesky, Karim Ardalan, Nikki McLay, Nisa McCoy, Robert Malesky, Sina Storyteller, and other IVOW collaborators Inzamam Malik, Kashyap Murali, Tracy Monteith, Victor Yarlott, Chamisa Edmo, came together to share our learnings from the vantage point of award-winning journalists, software engineers, business management executives, AI technologists, and chatbot developers. You can read our learnings and other testimonials here.

Thank you from all of us at IVOW AI, Inc.



Davar Ardalan

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