Before we talk…

“The role of art in social action is to report or reflect”. Arielle Danzy

I defined social constructs for a living before the Common Era of 2020. Merriam Webster will tell you that constructs are ideas, created and accepted by people within a society. Thus they change for each society. Every social construct starts with a word. Words defined for a purpose. So hunting for definitions of a given word became second nature to me and when I find a good definition, I tuck them away like treasures.

Maya Angelou said “Words are things” and that they can climb walls, seep into rugs, into your clothes and finally into you. She believed some day we will be able to measure them.

But that is what I did for a living. I measured them. Let me correct that. I tried to measure them. Let me correct that again. I tried to help others measure them. I turned social constructs into quantifiable metrics to train AI. Now, AI itself is a word that has not been well defined. We have yet to determine its true purpose. Without a purpose, it is impossible to define a construct. If you hired me, I would ask you to determine your parameters, the scope of your variables before I helped you define a construct. Any construct. Any word. They are defined by their surrounding variables.

To do this, I preferred to see words visually. To see them take their space on a surface. But I know they have a power to get into you when spoken, just as Maya Angelou noted. They take their space somewhere inside you. You cannot see it. You can only feel it. You can’t measure them, they measure you.

On January 20th, some words were spoken by a young lady named Amanda Gorman. They danced and floated in the air but also rushed past us, through us. Like the millions that heard her, I was also so enamored with her words that I googled “spoken word poetry” to hear more from her and YouTube played a lot of videos — and then it randomly played Before We Talk Peace.

From my laptop, a soul piercing voice blasted words that took a lot of space inside me. That powerful voice belonged to Arielle Danzy.

For me, she was defining Peace by defining the parameters around it. The scope of the variables that will sustain it. Without which, peace is meaningless. She was also defining it with her delivery.

The role of art in social action according to Arielle is to report and reflect. She reported and I reflected.

I did not know that I will be having the opportunity to interview her just a few months down the road from that day. It was a short interview for the Rethink AI event by Women in AI Ethics on May 25th. Arielle will be reciting that poem live.

A poem she wrote in memory of George Floyd, but also in honor of the mothers of Miles Hall and Oscar Grant heavy on her mind. In fact, the mothers of Miles Hall and Oscar Grant were among the first to ever hear this poem. Arielle says Floyd shook the country and changed the world and she felt it was important to do a poem in his honor.

That is how Before We Talk Peace was born. “With words, it is about delivery, delivery is everything, I emphasize certain words for a reason…it is powerful, it moves people” says Arielle. She chose spoken word as her medium as she found spoken words resonate with the most impact. She has seen it make a difference; she has used it to move people. She cited the art, music, and poetry of the 1960s as an example. “They heard the music, they can see and feel the hurt, and relate to it.”

Arielle met Mia Dand at an ACLU conference and she thought the idea of WAIE was “awesome; that there are women making this commitment to inclusivity” and she wanted to be a part of it. Just as there can be no peace without justice, Arielle believes there can be no ethical AI without inclusion, without representation of more than one type of person, or at least the effort to come as close to it as possible.

Arielle believes it is important for people to attend events like this; “To have this opportunity to gather with other women, to network, to join hands and do something together.”

She adds “to make sure ethics is preserved, you must listen to someone who may not look like you”.

Now you have the opportunity to listen to someone who has words that are waiting to take their shape inside you. Words that will seep into you and help you define your constructs. Of peace. Of justice. Of hope. Words delivered with power.

Listen. Listen as they settle into your clothes. Listen. As they climb your walls. Listen. Measure them as they measure you.

I believe AI learns to listen from what you listen to.

Arielle’s hope for the future of AI is very simple.

“Technology should be here to help us, not to erase us or forget us.”

For that, you must listen, to words that don’t sound like yours.

Most importantly, listen… before you talk.

Come and listen to Arielle as she begins Rethink AI by Women in AI on the one year anniversary of George Floyd, with her poem Before We Talk Peace.