The University of Hawaiʻi (UH) will use part of a six-year $17 million grant from Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund to improve AI through Indigenous knowledge.

The project, Abundant Intelligences: Expanding Artificial Intelligence through Indigenous Knowledge Systems, is Indigenous-led and involves 37 co-investigators and collaborators from eight universities and 12 Indigenous community-based organizations from Canada, the United States, and New Zealand.

Through the project, investigators will coalesce in locally rooted “pods” to collaborate with Indigenous communities. University of Hawai’I said that as a result of the pods each team will learn from, and alongside, Indigenous knowledge keepers to bring “novel perspectives to transforming AI.”

“The Hawaiʻi Pod will be a key site and significant resource for Abundant Intelligences. Hawaiʻi has one of the greatest concentrations of Indigenous technological talent in the world,” said Concordia University Professor Jason Lewis, who is the principal investigator for the grant.

“It has already played a key role in the Indigenous AI discussion by hosting the Indigenous Protocol and AI Workshops in 2019,” Lewis added. “These were grounded in part in the extensive and vibrant discussion within the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) community regarding the long history of kanaka innovation, and how that community has always developed and taken advantage of new technological tools and methods.”

The university said the Hawaiʻi pod will be based at UH West Oʻahu’s Create(x) digital emerging media lab.

“You see in Create(x) there are a lot of flowers on the table to weave a lei from,” said UH Director of Indigenous Innovation Kamuela Enos, who was a co-applicant for the grant. “What’s really important is that we will do it all in mindfulness of what is our responsibility as Hawaiians to protect our [intellectual property] and its use, which is always front of mind for us.”

To bring a multi-disciplinary approach to the pod, other UH co-applicants include representatives from information and computer sciences, Hawaiian studies, natural resources and environmental management, and a facilitator of Kūlana o Kapole​i.

“AI will impact every part of our lives in this decade and beyond. This project is an unprecedented opportunity to influence the future of AI to make it more inclusive in its use, development and evolution,” Jason Leigh, founding director of Create(x) and co-director of the Hawaiʻi Data Science Institute said.

The Create(x) lab has projection capabilities for various virtual environments. UH said the lab provides students access to immersive technologies where diverse projects – designed to perpetuate Indigenous knowledge and narratives –  range from visualizing the first few lines of the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation chant; teaching Hawaiian vocabulary of native species and environmental change; modern Hawaiian wayfinding; and the retelling of famous moʻolelo (stories).

“[The grant] is giving us the capability, resources and time to think through and talk through a new way of interacting with technology that AI is providing us,” Create(x) co-director and Hawaiʻi Pod Coordinator Kari Noe said.

Read More About