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U. Michigan speaker discusses ‘data colonialism,’ tech centered on ‘Indigenous knowledge’

The University of Michigan hosted “dedicated activist and academic” Alejandro Mayoral Baños this past week to discuss “technology equity” and “digital sovereignty centered around Indigenous knowledge.”

According to the “Unpacking the Complexities of Development and Data Colonialism” event description, while technological advancements are “often praised as instruments of ’empowerment and progress,’ [they] might unintentionally foster new iterations of colonialism.”

The UM Center for Racial Justice and Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program hosted the event.

The Michigan Daily reports that Baños (pictured), founder of the Indigenous Friends Association who’s “honed his expertise at the intersections of decolonial computing, digital decoloniality, and Indigenous media,” wants to “critically evaluate” the notion that tech always aids in development.

Baños also said tech development needs to center Indigenous “voices” in order to avoid “negative effects.” For example, he claimed “e-waste” from innumerable tech devices and servers “running 24/7” is being sent to the “Global South.”

“My objective is not that you become an expert,” Baños told the audience. “It’s just that you started thinking critically from where you’re standing […] The point is all of us have a role in actually creating better technologies for all, and now we are all part of this.”

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“How we can embody aspects needed for us to feel safer in the technological environment”? Baños asked. “How we can use technology to create respect for the land”?

From the story:

[A] Q&A centered on how to merge the dystopian and utopian view of technology’s place in social-good movements. Baños responded with his perspective that there is not a singular or drastic solution.

“I think that the path forward is not about extremes,” Baños said. “It’s about how we can start constructing a more critical digital tech. There are very good examples of how created technology can be positive when we bring in that community perspective.”

In an interview with The Michigan Daily after the lecture, Public Policy graduate student Gabriel Sylvan said seeing what the IFA is doing was an exciting opportunity.

“Seeing the breakthroughs being made to combat negative technologies while at the same time empowering the positive is fascinating,” Sylvan said.

According to its website, the Indigenous Friends Association “ignites the Spirit of Indigenous communities to create, engage and renovate digital technologies through ethical and communal values” and puts “Indigenous understandings at th[e] core” of tech projects.

MORE: Physics professor: We need to ‘acknowledge we live under Indigenous skies’

IMAGE: U. Michigan

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