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Q&A: The Risks, Challenges and Opportunities of AI for Māori in Aotearoa

Updated: Apr 20

Over the last few years, AI technology has been developing at a rapid pace. With powerful tools such as ChatGPT and DALL-E capturing public interest, people are starting to reckon with AI’s potential to fundamentally change how many aspects of our society operate. This has sparked plenty of discussion around the applications of AI, the dangers associated with it, and how society should move forward with this technology.

As more people consider the role AI should play in our future, we thought it would be an excellent time to think about the unique opportunities, challenges, and risks that AI presents to Māori in Aotearoa.

We sat down for a quick Q&A with our Analytics Lead, Dani Lucas. Dani has been involved in the Māori AI space through her work with the Tikanga in Technology research project, and through attending the Māori AI Wānanga at the University of Waikato in August last year. Dani shares a few of her insights about the future of Māori AI in Aotearoa – its potential, pitfalls, and opportunities.

Kia ora Dani! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your experience in the Māori AI space?

Kia ora! My academic background is in law, philosophy, politics, economics, and more recently indigenous studies. Notably not computer science or data science, however with the rapid growth of AI we need to think beyond how this technology is created or applied and consider how it’s use impacts our society and the different communities within it. In Aotearoa New Zealand that means thinking about how AI impacts Māori communities differently.

I have had some experience in the Māori AI space through the Tikanga in Technology research project we are involved in. As part of this project we are working with academics from Waikato, Auckland and Victoria University to create a framework to decolonise algorithms. At its heart, decolonising algorithms means making sure that Māori worldviews are built the way they operate and drive equitable outcomes for Māori. (To learn more about what an algorithm is click here). As a member of this team, I was able to attend the Māori AI Wānanga last year where I heard lots of important discussion around the opportunities and challenges of AI for Māori communities.

Why is it such an interesting time right now for Māori AI?

The growth of AI technology is constantly making headlines. Newer and bolder forms of AI have the ability to change the way we function as a society (for example ChatGPT is writing speeches and a humanoid is speaking in parliament). AI is also becoming a more normal part of our every day; we use it when searching the internet, when opening our inboxes and talking to customer service. As the growth and use of AI increases there are some great opportunities and risks for us.

What are some of the opportunities that AI provides to Māori communities?

There are so many opportunities with AI technology. It’s ability to process a large amount of information, and analyse it, all while learning, can create a lot of benefits. Firstly, it can make smarter and faster decisions from a larger base of information. We have seen this in He Ara Poutama, which brings together information from the Integrated Data Infrastructure and community Te Reo Māori initiatives to help us better understand and therefore support the revitalisation of Te Reo Māori.

It could also improve how we learn about and access mātauranga Māori. With the continuing urbanisation of Māori, it can be really tricky to learn your whānau moteatea or perfect your mita while living away from your rohe. AI gives us new tools to teach and learn in new and engaging ways.

While it sounds like there are some fantastic ways that AI can be used to benefit Māori in Aotearoa, what are the risks that we need to be aware of?

You’re right – there are also some huge risks with these opportunities.

If AI can make decisions off a large number of data points – the question is what data points is it using? Due to the way we have collected data in the past, we know that lots of data is biased and does not adequately reflect Māori communities. We need to make sure that these biases are not perpetuated in the development of AI.

Another important question is whose data are we using? Many communities have had their data, their information, taken from them, and used without their permission or consent to train AI. This perpetuates biased data, as we are not able to contextualise the data properly. It also means that the benefits of using this data have not been shared with the very community the data is about.

The last question I want to touch on is one that our research project is working on – how does tikanga apply to Artificial Intelligence? What does it mean when we have a robot weaving a tukutuku panel? How do you karanga a stranger on to a virtual marae? Can a chatbot know as much a tohunga? These are all questions that need to be debated and discussed within Māori communities.

If I am somebody who develops and works with AI in Aotearoa, what can I do to make sure that AI is used in a way that supports and uplifts Māori communities?

Talk to the community– nothing should be created for the Māori community without us.

Awesome, thank you so much Dani! Are there resources people can check out if they would like to learn more?

There are lots of resources out there:

  • The research project we are working on helps to provide further resources in this space, so keep an eye out for developments in the area:

  • The AI wananga I attended had some great speakers, including our very own Ernestynne Walsh, that are publicly available here.

  • There are also great talks hosted monthly by Te Kōtahi Research Institute that cover a range of issues in this area:

  • In the Māori Data Sovereignty space, Te Mana Raraunga provide some great research and guidance as well.

  • Te Hiku Media have some epic resources in this space, including their Kaitiakitanga Licence ( which demonstrates how data can be used with respect.

To chat more about algorithms and our work with Māori data, get in touch by emailing

(Editor’s note: At the time of publishing this article, Dani had just left Nicholson Consulting to travel the world - all the best for your adventures, Dani!)

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