Ancestral AI: 3 Things to Explore

Inspired by the counter-movements of slow fashion and slow food, Slow AI project investigates three emerging AI counter-narratives – Small AI , Ancestral AI & Esoteric AI  – and explores what it might look like to incorporate them into our everyday practice.

Ancestral AI explores natural and cultural temporalities to better understand how we might create alternatives to the culture of Big Tech’s AI development: ‘always-on,’ ‘fast-paced’ or ‘time-blind’. We document and investigate the wisdom of past generations, including time-tested approaches to building resilient complex systems.

In this update, we're excited to share three insightful elements to deepen your understanding of Ancestral AI. First, explore a recent reading that captivated our research lead, Gustavo Nogueira de Menezes. Second, meet a person of interest making waves in the field. Lastly, watch a compelling snippet to further immerse yourself in the research of the Ancestral AI project. Dive in and explore these curated highlights from Gustavo.


Research Lead


May 2024


Stimuleringsfonds Creative Industries + currently looking for additional co-funding

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Crossing different projects, since 2020 I have been particularly interested in the bridges for the Western world presented by British designer Helga Schmid in her PhD thesis published as the book "Uchronia: Designing Time" (2020). Her work approaches important challenges regarding the scarcity of time according to South Korean-born philosopher and cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han, who characterizes the current state of contemporary Western societies as "a time crisis, a so-called dyschronia, which originates in the loss of a genuine rhythm".

Han lives in Germany, in Berlin, but not far from there we have the city of Jena, where I often work and we can also find the German sociologist Hartmut Rosa who has his ideas about social acceleration presented in the same book. "According to Rosa, there are three forms of social acceleration: technological acceleration (production, communication, transportation), the acceleration of social change (cultural knowledge, social institutions, personal relationships) and the acceleration in the pace of life.".

In a summary written by Helga Schmid: "1 Technologies shape and are shaped by society. They are neither the problem nor the solution. 2 We are trapped in our own system of clocks and calendars, even though they are just one element in the interplay of temporality (lived time). 3 Now is the time to question existing work patterns and our current time frame."

These ideas are interwoven to present the main concept of the book "Uchronia, as a temporal Utopia" – an idea first presented by Helga Novotny in sociology, who I met recently in Barcelona during a private event about Artificial Intelligence at CCCB.

Back to Helga Schmid and her bridges of the concept to the design field, Uchronia is “a way to question, speculate, and design new types of temporal systems that are more about being in sync — with yourself, with each other, and with the world — rather than clock time.”

If this is not enough and you are interested in more I recommend coming to one of my classes about temporal literacy to dive deep into our relationship with time as change and temporalities as ways of being.

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Ailton Krenak, indigenous leader of the Krenak people in Brazil, Latin America – or, in Pindorama, Abya Ayala, referring to the country and continent by its pre-colonial indigenous names. He co-founded or participated in several indigenous rights organizations. Krenak functioned as a representative of indigenous peoples at the debates on the 1988 Brazilian Constitution, where he covered himself in ritual face painting during a speech. He is an acclaimed author, part of Academia Brasileira de Letras, a selected group nominated as immortals of Brazilian literature, and one of the most important philosophers of our times. He reminds us that he is joined by more than 300 other indigenous people from the region and their unique languages.

For him, my home country Brazil unites dialects of indigenous, African black, Japanese, German, and Italians that transcended European Portuguese, becoming a “Brazilian language” (as he refers to the Brazilian Portuguese). Among his books are titles such as “Ideas to Postpone the End of The World”, “Life is Not Useful”, “Tomorrow Is Not On Sales”, and “Ancestral Futures”, released originally in Portuguese and now available in English as well.

But Ailton Krenak is not only available in written words. He is in theater plays, in lectures at the biggest conferences, and also leading the learning community “Selvagem”  (Meaning “Wild”, with the goal to rewild contemporary society) where he also narrates a video series called “Arrows”, addressing many urgent topics through the cosmovisions – the worldviews or cultural lenses – of indigenous people and he was also an important leading figure during the pandemic, hosting educational live streaming events to the population.

This biography should be enough for you to be interested in Ailton Krenak’s perspectives. But what are they? Krenak says one day when everything goes extinct the bankers will discover we can’t eat money.

Western civilization is trying to face the apocalypse but indigenous and black people faced it already, during enslavement. They found not only ways to survive but to keep living for more than 500 years. So he proposes ways of decentering human beings to remember we don’t exist as separate from nature but are nature. Nature is answering our rebellion with climate calamities that could have been worse without the indigenous people holding the sky and negotiating in the dreamworld with the natural phenomena.

I had the opportunity to meet him at an event in Brazil he surprised me with an invitation to go on stage to explain non-linear temporalities using the Torus I carry with me as one of the artifacts for decentering people. He also explained indigenous cultures have their very own artifacts for exactly that, but their people are not objects to be studied.

They are active subjects and agents of change. Just like Ailton Krenak and “Selvagem” led by him, other subjects that share the same indigenous perspective are the cross-cultural collective Gestures Towards Decolonial Futures based also in Canadá and producing their critical pedagogies, and also the project Indigenous AI Protocol by diverse communities in Aotearoa, Australia, North America, and the Pacific co-creating frameworks for AI development based in ancestral and indigenous wisdom.


“I am a mathematician, and I would like to stand on your roof.”

That is how Ron Eglash greeted many African families he met while researching the fractal patterns he noticed in villages across the continent. This video is foundational to our understanding of Ancestral AI and it was brought back to me by the afrofuturist and ancestral futures researcher Morena Mariah, founder of Afrofuturo Institute in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

She is also a good friend and a compass with whom I learn so much about how to recenter Africa in the origins and horizons of technology. If we are searching for alternative narratives of technology, we are not going to find them in the cultures holding the power that generated the current companies that dominate the status quo of the tech industry.

While I am finishing my Master in Design for Responsible Artificial Intelligence Systems in the Context of Climate Emergency, a hybrid program hosted by ELISAVA and IAM Internet in Barcelona with a very international community of professionals and faculty members – in which AIxDesign is part of it – we’ve been focusing on the importance of addressing AI as socio-technical systems, systems that carry both their technical properties and cultural bias from the ones creating them.

And, in fact, different cultures also carry different assumptions to imprint in their technologies.I mentioned these worldviews are called cosmovisions and their technologies are called Cosmotechniques, a concept used by the Chinese scholar Yuk Hui to explain why the AI technology created in China is fundamentally different from the one created in Silicon Valley (thank you to my Chilean friend professor Martin Perez Comisso to present us to that).

Back to Africa, if you watched the video and felt inspired to know more about ancestral and contemporary ways these cultures think and create social technology around them, I recommend searching for the work of Dr. Buseki Fu Kiau about African Cosmologies. And also his influence on both “ Black Quantum Futurism”  by multi-artist Rasheedah Phillips in Philadelphia and the work of Leda Maria Martins about Performances of Spiral Time that we carry within us in our body as a canvas for expressing language. Leda by the way was the name inspiring the theme of the last Biennale of São Paulo, called Choreographies of the Impossible. Yes, these references are fractals inside of fractals, because all are interconnected.