Helping Communities Understand Artificial Intelligence

Movers & Shakers: Q&A with Diana Nucera

Helping Communities Understand Artificial Intelligence

Diana Nucera, a Detroit-based multimedia artist and co-author of “A People’s Guide To AI,” sat down with YR Contributor Nalani Mornes to discuss music and artificial intelligence.

Nucera’s portfolio runs the gamut of music production, quilting, grassroots organizing and publishing. When she’s on stage spinning records, she goes by the name of DJ Mother Cyborg. Now let’s hear some records!

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

YR Contributor Nalani Mornes: First of all… How did you get the DJ stage name “Mother Cyborg?" 

DN: It was a way to deal with terrible sound guys who always questioned my skill. I’d tell them my name was Mother Cyborg, and that they could call me “Mother,” which summoned respect when they called me that.  

You co-authored "A People's Guide To AI" – How did that project come about? What drove you to pursue it?

Mimi Onuoha [the co-author of “A People’s Guide to AI”] and I met at a meeting about AI where everyone was talking about the doomsday of AI. I kept thinking, ‘How will I talk about AI with my community when we are still trying to get internet connections?’ That question led to the zine creation. There is a personal need to understand AI in order to critically think, act, and organize around it.

Your creative journey began with music. What instruments do you play?  

I taught myself piano when I was your age, which is kind of wild. I was bored and living in a small town in Indiana, and our family was like one of four families of color. And so music was very important to me to make me feel accepted and not like the other. 

From there, I learned how to play the cello. Which I was able to play because of a school program, and I still, to this day, play the cello. The cello actually took me around the world many times, which I think my orchestra teacher would be surprised to hear. But it did. And I sing. And I can sometimes play the bass guitar. On the computer, I produce music like beat making and DJing as well. 

What projects did you create with your U.S. Artist Fellowship? 

With the US Artist Fellowship, I started really going deep into my quilts, so that fellowship gave me the funding to buy what I called a top stitcher, which lets me almost draw with a sewing machine. 

I have a whole series of quilts that I made that are really big, and I don't think I would have been able to do that without having that funding. I wanted to put technology into my fiber work, so I programmed these touch screens to have an infinite scrolling offer. Then there's these stuffed animals that I’ve been making. 

What has your experience like working with the Detroit Community Technology Project? 

I haven't worked there in a couple of years, but when I was there it was very hard. I'm not going to lie, it was fulfilling in many ways because it opened an opportunity to see how the internet can be built in a very different way by the people for the people. And that to me is very inspiring, and it also inspired lots of people around the world to take ownership of their technology. 

Why was it hard?  

I had to convince lots of people, like CEOs of tech companies and investors, that my idea was worth pursuing. 

Sometimes that meant I had to do code switching, which means as a woman of color, I would be in these spaces that were primarily white and cis-male oriented. And you know, it was really hard to leave my wacky, wild personality at the door in order to convince these people that they needed to free the internet, essentially.  

NM: How did that project improve AI education?

The Detroit Community Technology Project Work started to demystify these systems that we sort of take for granted because we use them every day. It gave people the power to build their own systems, like once they knew how it worked, then they could design them and build them for themselves.

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