Why AI needs to be culturally inclusive

17 Oct 2018

Davar Ardalan. Image: Comtrade Digital Services

Comtrade’s Nikola Šopar reflects on Davar Ardalan’s session on storytelling in the age of AI at the 2018 Quest for Quality event.

The recent Quest for Quality conference in Dublin brought together some of the brightest and most experienced thought leaders and experts in the technology industry to discuss the latest advances in digital agility, artificial intelligence (AI) and quality assurance.

Almost 200 people descended upon The Marker Hotel over two days in early October to hear from those shaping the sector and driving global organisations such as Intel and Salesforce. Organised by Comtrade Digital Services, the event attracted people from more than 25 countries including Ireland, Germany, the UK, Slovenia, Norway, India, Brazil and the US.

While there were a number of inspirational and fascinating discussions about digital transformation and disruption, there was one keynote speaker who left everyone wondering about the next step in the journey of AI systems. For the second session on the second day, Davar Ardalan of IVOW, a cultural storytelling start-up powered by AI, took to the stage in The Market Suite to talk about ‘Storytelling in the Age of AI’.

The IVOW founder and storyteller-in-chief kicked things off by talking about Sophia the robot, of Hanson Robotics, who has already made headlines around the world due to her human likeness. This saw her become the first bot to grace the cover of Cosmopolitan and the first android to gain citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Sophia has also spoken at conferences about how robotics and AI will become a prevalent part of people’s lives.

But Ardalan didn’t dwell on the achievements of the robot. She shared a photograph in which she can be seen giving Sophia gifts from China and Iran. Her point was that the missing element within AI is culture, and it needs to be a key consideration going forward in relation to the development of these systems.

Ardalan explained that giving Sophia these gifts – which are not just objects but represent a culture defined by events, behaviours, traditions, dialects and people – will help to make her more culturally aware and therefore more informed.

She added that AI algorithms have the potential to become culturally sensitive and can develop the ability to tell accurate stories that truly reflect humanity, but only if we educate them using a diverse range of data and inputs.

In other words, we need to make sure that the next generation of creative machines is aware of where we as a human race have come from, and appreciates the broad range of cultures that exist in the world.

“AI needs to be deeply inclusive,” insisted Ardalan, before stating that every member of society should consider their role over the next 10 years – be that protecting humans from machines or providing machines with context to enable them to better understand and appreciate different belief systems, values and histories.

In her presentation, Ardalan ran through a number of examples of the most recent innovations in the area of AI in terms of demonstrating its aptitude for understanding culture and reciting important stories. These included the following:

  • AI systems can listen to a specific genre of literature and use this data to produce texts or stories of a similar nature. They can also read stories to children, measure their responses and pick the next story based on their preferences.
  • Wordsmith, the natural language generation platform, is currently using people’s data to create insightful, human-sounding prose. This means that thousands of unique narratives can be produced in the time it takes a human to write one piece of content.
  • At this year’s Wimbledon tennis championships, IBM’s AI learning system Watson created video packages showing key match moments based on an analysis of the crowd noise, players’ movements and match data.
  • IVOW has developed a storytelling bot that echoes past and current voices of wisdom within families, communities and companies. This is a powerful tool for sharing knowledge, advice and inspiration with the next generation.

Ardalan played a video showing how the IVOW Beta Storyteller works using the example of John Smith, an environmental engineer born in Lima, Ohio.

When you consider this progress, it’s clear to see the increasing presence and influence of AI systems, not just in how people work but how they live and interact with their own cultures.

While it might be construed that humans are becoming increasingly dependent on machines, Ardalan highlights that machines are dependent on humans to help them learn, understand and show empathy. In fact, she argues that the future of accurate and inclusive storytelling is reliant upon it.

By Nikola Šopar

Nikola Šopar is head of QA services at Comtrade Digital Services. He also serves as conference programme director for Quest for Quality.