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