How decolonising STEM provides a solution to sustaining our world?
A landmark UN report by the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) has delivered a dramatic and extraordinarily serious warning: We have little more than a decade to get global warming under control or the world is at risk.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report tells us that our carbon emissions targets will need to fall 45 per cent from 2010 levels — or 58 per cent from 2015 totals — by 2030 if we are to reverse the impact of climate change. In light of the damning report, the Australia’s mining industry and the Morrison government rejected the report that calls on nations to phase out all coal-fired power.
Some scientist suggest that the environmental damage is so bad, that only we can fix it is through developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) abut through an ethical lens. Ethics in AI relates to the ethics of technology specific to robots and other artificially intelligent beings. Roboethics, as it’s commonly known, concerns the moral behaviour of humans as they design, construct, use and treat artificially intelligent beings and machine ethics.
That being said, would it not make sense to develop ethical AI from the First Nations sciences and technologies that are inherently sustainable?
I strongly believe that First Nations science can provide solutions to major issues like climate change. Indigenous businesses that are inherently sustainable could also fast track a reduction in carbon emissions.
I strongly believe that First Nations science can provide solutions to major issues like climate change. Indigenous businesses that are inherently sustainable could also fast track a reduction in carbon emissions. However, corporates and governments need to work with us in order to make this happen.
For starters, First Nations peoples are the first scientists, inventors and ecologists, and it was our deep understanding of how humans can co-exist with nature that enables us to lead discussions and debates about global sustainability. Despite this knowledge, Indigenous peoples are still rarely considered when it comes to discussing and shaping policy around AI and sustainability.
Of course this inclusion comes with concerns about the level of cultural safety to ensuring Scared Traditional Knowledge, which has been held with family groups for hundreds of generations, will not be exploited. Traditional Knowledge has had great economic advancement for First Nation Peoples in industries that range from tourism, agricultural, arts, clean energy, and through to the biotechnology industry.
There are many examples of First Nations successes, but one that stand out for me right now is All Grid Energy. Ray Pratt is an proud Arrernte man who is the CEO of All Grid Energy, a multi-million dollar clean energy company, providing affordable solutions to clean energy in both urban and remote areas.
First Nations people can achieve a lot in the innovation and science sectors and it seems like the perfect fit to our long experience with science dating back over 80,000. But with the lack of First Nations voices in science, technology and the environmentalism space, you have to ask yourself; why aren’t we seeing more businesses like All Grid and where does the disconnect stem from?
History of Racism in the science and technology sector
In 2016, my company INDIGI LAB collaborated with the Museum of Applied Art and Science hold an Indigenous Science Symposium over the Science Week weekend. This gathering brought together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics, theorists, researchers, designers, engineers, educators and students from across the community, and provided an important opportunity to shape future research and investigations that are focused on exploring and sharing the sophistication, richness, and leadership of Australia’s First Peoples within the scientific domain. The findings from the round table discussions about racism in the sector was alarming and provided a snapshot of the level of racism that exists in the STEM sector and also the road ahead to change.
The first contact between European scientists and Indigenous peoples was shameful and morbid, to say the very least.
Many science institutions had deeply racist processes of researching and cataloguing First Nations Peoples and their cultures, with many scientists considering Flora and Fauna of greater value than First Nations Peoples. In fact, some of this racist cataloguing can still be found, concealed in basements of museums and galleries today, yet repatriations of First Nations remain. Artefacts in institutions are allowing for a much-needed change to the archives as they continue to remind us that very dark times occurred in this country’s history.
Artefacts in institutions are allowing for a much-needed change to the archives as they continue to remind us that very dark times occurred in this country’s history.
In the 19th Century Darwinism was a popular science theory that reinforced a notion that Caucasian people were a superior race, thus First Nations science by First Nations people couldn’t provide any useful information and was excluded from any science enquiries.
But even though social Darwinism theory had a devastating impact on First Nations Peoples, it was ultimately James Cook’s decision to declare Terra Nullius and that would lay down the foundational lie of the country that would also add to the treatment of First Nations peoples.
The result of Darwinism and Terra Nullius would result in the racist policies and stereotypes which stated that First Nations were not treated as citizens of Australia, it would take almost forty years for Australia to make the change in the constitution and even today, First Nations Australians are still fighting to be formally recognised in the constitution.
In the early 1900s, Ngarrindjeri man and inventor, David Unaipon would start to change people’s perceptions of First Nations Peoples. His remarkable inventions, which included the centrifugal motor and mechanical propulsion device, compelled Australians to accept and legitimise Aboriginal intelligence, and also forced them to consider the scientific knowledge of the world’s oldest culture.
It has also been reported that Unaipon contributed to the design of the helicopter, having designed its rotors pre-World War I, based on the principle of the boomerang and his fascination with perpetual motion. Unaipon’s legacy continues to pave the way for younger First Nations people to unearth the First Nations science Australia has buried beneath a ton of denial. However, despite David’s successful contributions to science and technology in this country, he died a poor man.
It wasn’t until the late 20th Century that science focused a lot more on environmental sustainability and began looking to First Nations people for solutions. While there is now a widely accepted view in the science community about the role First Nations People can play in environmental science research, the extraction of First Nation Knowledge systems is yet to provide significant benefits to the Knowledge Holders themselves.
Looking back, it’s no wonder why there are still issues where Indigenous values aren’t respected in both the science and sustainable sectors. The science sector is inherently racist and even though bridging the science divide seems an obvious solution, changing the minds of people to value Indigenous science and sustainable Knowledge seems to be very difficult.
First Nations peoples and AI
There’s no denying that technology and AI is playing a vital role in our everyday lives; from robots in factories, to voice activated hand held devices to digital automation on public transport. AI is becoming more and more integrated into our every day.
But even though robots and AI might seem new and innovative, the truth is we have been developing and testing AI for thousands of years. Some 2000 years ago, Greek mathematician Archytas, one of the most notable inventors, created a steam-powered flying pigeon. It was built of wood, and was one of the first studies into how birds fly.
But long before the Greeks, First Nations Australians had developed technologies using AI from thousands of years of studying the earth and understanding how they fit within the earth. Even today we see First Nations technology like the Boomerang used in modern technology like the Mars drone, to the propeller of ships. In fact, Indigenous knowledge led the way for the maritime and aviation industries and put Australia ahead in science and innovation, yet there was no consideration of how that Knowledge would or should be used.