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  • We hear a lot about data, but what is it? In simple terms, data is a collection of unorganised numbers, symbols or text that, when analysed, provides information.

    When we use apps or online platforms, text and other forms of data – for example, location, contacts and user-created content – are harvested (collected). The harvested data is mined – organised and analysed – to make it useful for an end user.

    Rights: gonin, 123RF Ltd

    Digital data

    Digital data refers to information in a digital format, typically consisting of binary code. It can be processed, stored and transmitted electronically.

    Data sovereignty

    Data sovereignty is about ensuring that we have authority and control over our own data, encompassing aspects such as collection, ownership, storage and usage. Data sovereignty is particularly important for First Nations peoples and cultures, many of whom are already working to address historical theft and colonialism.

    Data sovereignty is important for safeguarding privacy, ensuring self-determination and preserving cultural, economic and social interests tied to the data. It allows individuals or communities to determine how their data is managed and shared in accordance with their values and priorities.

    The news article below was written by Libby Kirkby-McLeod and republished with permission from RNZ (Radio New Zealand). Māori data sovereignty and te reo Māori experts were asked for their thoughts on ChatGPT.

    The article was originally published on RNZ on 19 June 2023 – How will ChatGPT impact te reo Māori? Data sovereignty experts weigh in.

    Te reo Māori and data sovereignty experts are raising another red flag about artificial intelligenceChatGPT might be getting just a little too good at te reo.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Māori data sovereignty

    Graphic illustration completed by Fuselight Creative during a presentation by Dr Te Taka Keegan titled Issues with Māori Sovereignty over Māori Language Data.

    The presentation was given at the HELISET TŦE SḰÁL ‘Let the Languages Live’ – 2019 International Conference on Indigenous Languages hosted by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council and First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation in Victoria B.C., Canada.

    Original illustration © Fuselight Creative.

    Language sovereignty

    On a crisp afternoon at Waikato University, Associate Professor of Computer Science Te Taka Keegan asked ChatGPT to write in te reo Māori.

    The quality of Māori, he said, was good – scarily good.

    “If they are producing a very good quality of Māori, the question that could be asked is – where did they get their data from?” Keegan said.

    Keegan thought OpenAI would have scraped it from social media sites.

    Because ChatGPT was good, Keegan said sooner or later the language itself could shift from a traditional reo to a ChatGPT version.

    The consequence? It might mean Māori lose sovereignty of the language.

    “We’ve lost a lot of control over our land, we’ve lost a lot of control over the education that our children get; our own data and our own stories is kind of our last control over ourselves. If we lose that, if we lose sovereignty over that, it doesn’t bode well for the uniqueness that is Māori,” Keegan said.

    Using ChatGPT

    Ngapera Riley thinks a lot about the ethics of information, data sovereignty and te reo Māori.

    Her company Figure.NZ works to democratise New Zealand data, and she said they worried about how it might be gathered and misused.

    “Once we open it, it’s out there, right? But we’ve decided it is better to let people use the information and access it than to hide it,” she said.

    Riley reminded people that what ChatGPT produced should not be used as a primary source. It was a tool, and whatever it produced needs human auditing.

    “That’s where it will get dangerous if people start to get too lazy and just start using it like that [as a primary source],” she said.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    ChatGPT response on data mining te reo Māori content

    Text generated by ChatGPT when asked – in te reo Māori – about the issues regarding generative AI mining data a treasured language. ChatGPT responded by saying AI interference and use of te reo would compromise the language. To ensure this does not happen, reo Māori and tikanga need to be strengthened.

    ChatGPT is a generative AI product by OpenAI.

    Protecting Māori tikanga and narratives

    Te reo champion Sonny Ngatai was optimistic the language could survive AI. He wanted to see te reo Māori everywhere – from cooking to the back of chocolate bars and even ChatGPT.

    But he would like to see some boundaries.

    “Where I would put my flag up for data sovereignty is when it comes to our stories or our narratives or our tikanga, stuff like that,” he said.

    For these, he said protecting Māori intellectual property rights was important.

    Opportunities presented by generative AI

    Te reo was not just about stringing words together like a chatbot could, he said.

    “It’s part of our identity, part of who we are as New Zealanders. There is just so much more to the language than an AI being able to translate what you want to say.”

    Despite the challenges, Keegan was generally positive about AI.

    He thought if it could be isolated, trained by Māori and controlled at an iwi level, Māori could retain sovereignty and use it as a helpful tool.

    “We need to make sure it is cut off from the mothership, that it wasn’t feeding everything back to the mothership, because everyone loses if that’s the case,” he said.

    Riley also thought ChatGPT had a lot to offer as long as Māori were actively involved.

    “My hope is that tools like ChatGPT can help preserve and use [te reo], but we still need the human element to input into the language and to check that we aren’t using incorrect sources,” Riley said.

    Whatever happens with ChatGPT, Māori data sovereignty experts said they would be watching – and responding.

    Related content

    This article explores the resurgence of indigenous knowledge and growing acknowledgement of its scientific value worldwide.

    Data is a complex concept. Learn more about internet data in the articles Data about data and Data and how we use it.

    Sensing data, a level 4 Connected article, provides an introduction to big data and the internet of things and how they are used to address air pollution in Christchurch.

    Ethics thinking

    • The Connected article Emotional robots explores the development of machines (robots) that imitate human emotion and thought from a social and ethical perspective.

    • AI and generative learning have many positives and quite a few drawbacks. The Futures thinking toolkit can be customised to explore how changes in this technology may impact our lives and the lives of future generations.

    Useful links

    The Te Mana Raraunga Māori Data Sovereignty Network has useful information on data sovereignty and other related aspects, including their charter document.

    The Royal Society Te Apārangi Mana Raraunga Data Sovereignty 2023 report outlines what data sovereignty is and why it matters in Aotearoa New Zealand. Listen to this RadioNZ interview with Professor Tahu Kukutai as she breaks down concepts like Big Data and Māori data sovereignty.

    This news article Inside the fight for Māori data sovereignty includes interviews with data sovereignty academics and digital practitioners.

    Ngapera Riley writes about data sovereignty and why data is important in Māori data is a taonga. Learn more about Ngapera Riley’s company Figure.NZ, which is on a mission “to get the people of New Zealand using data to thrive” by sharing visualisations of datasets.

    In this video, Sonny Ngatai talks about the history of te reo Māori revitalisation and why he is passionate about the language.

    Explore the resources in the Artificial intelligence section on the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor website.

    Download from the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi Summary: The Age of Artificial Intelligence in Aotearoa. This 2019 report looks at what artificial intelligence is, how it is or could be used in New Zealand and the risks that need to be managed so that all New Zealanders can prosper in an AI world.

    ChatGPT and other LLMs require significant input from humans and rely on our feedback to improve the technology. This article looks at LLMs from a sociological perspective.

    Dr Karaitiana Taiuru of Taiuru & Associates presented at the prestigious 2023 Gibbons Lecture Series, was hosted by the School of Computer Science at the University of Auckland. Find out more on how he thinks that Māori are at a crossroads in human evolution, and that AI could be used to decolonise and empower Māori here.


    Article by Libby Kirkby-McLeod, republished with permission of RNZ.

      Published 24 July 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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