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How Native Americans Are Trying to Debug A.I.'s Biases


As Tracy Monteith, a senior Microsoft engineer and member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, put it, A.I. is only as good as the data it is fed. And data on cultures that have long been marginalized, like Native ones, are simply not at the levels th

Credit: Juan Carlos Pagan

In September 2021, Native American technology students in high school and college gathered at a conference in Phoenix and were asked to create photo tags — word associations, essentially — for a series of images.

One image showed ceremonial sage in a seashell; another, a black-and-white photograph circa 1884, showed hundreds of Native American children lined up in uniform outside the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, one of the most prominent boarding schools run by the American government during the 19th and 20th centuries.

For the ceremonial sage, the students chose the words "sweetgrass," "sage," "sacred," "medicine," "protection" and "prayers." They gave the photo of the boarding school tags with a different tone: "genocide," "tragedy," "cultural elimination," "resiliency" and "Native children."

The exercise was for the workshop Teaching Heritage to Artificial Intelligence Through Storytelling at the annual conference for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. The students were creating metadata that could train a photo recognition algorithm to understand the cultural meaning of an image.

From The New York Times
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