Forget dusty old tomes in dark libraries – culture and heritage jobs are super-high tech
Australia is home to more than 250 Indigenous languages and around 800 dialects. Unfortunately, many of these are at risk of being lost as Elders are often the only fluent speakers. Only 120 languages are still used and 100 of them are considered endangered.
Language is an incredibly important part of culture. Indigenous people consider languages to be living things that connect them to Country, culture and ancestors. The race is on to create accurate records of Indigenous languages and for younger people to learn them so they can become custodians for future generations.
To highlight the need to preserve languages worldwide, Google created an app that teaches users the words for the objects around them in 17 endangered tongues. Users snap a photo and, using machine learning, the app identifies objects in the image and provides translations.
Identifying sacred sites with drones
Technology is also helping Indigenous people preserve other aspects of their culture. Drone fanatic Gullara McInnes, a member of the Wallara clan of the Koko-Muluridji people of Far North Queensland, has used her favourite tech to map the locations of important traditional sites.
It was important for Elders to be able to properly identify the sites, but many of the areas were physically inaccessible due to heavy vegetation.
“That’s when I decided to use two drones – one to provide a bird’s eye view and the other to get under the canopy – to enable our local Elders to identify the different sites, all using modern drone technology,” Gullara says.
She also used drones to map where non-native plants were threatening the sites, so that they could be safely burned back. Her savvy drone skills earned her the Caring for Country Award during NAIDOC Week in 2020.
The app is called Woolaroo, a word from Yugambeh – a language of South East Queensland – that means ‘picture’ or ‘shadow’. Word lists and audio recordings were provided by the team at Yugambeh Museum, who have been collecting local language for nearly 30 years. Teaching AI in Jingulu Indigenous language and culture apps are being developed all over Australia and New Zealand, and some schools are even experimenting with robots to help kids learn.
But researchers at UNSW have found that one First Nations language could be useful in helping humans and artificial intelligence (AI) systems communicate with each other. They found that the simple verbs used in Jingulu, a language spoken by the Jingili people of the Northern Territory, translate well into AI commands. From there, they were able to develop a Jingalu-inspired programming language called JSwarm.
High-tech skills to reserve the past
If the idea of working in culture and heritage intrigues you, the good news is there are loads of jobs in the sector that use tech skills.
Drones and laser scanners (LIDAR) have made it much easier to make digital maps of important sites such as Indigenous landmarks and heritage buildings. These services are often provided by consultancy firms that specialise in geospatial information systems (GIS).
They not only need people to operate the drones, but also engineers and data analysts to design the systems and interpret the results.
Archaeologists use STEM skills, too, from creating 3D models of artefacts using computeraided design (CAD) to interactive replicas of sites that can be explored in virtual reality.
Libraries and museums are also high-tech workplaces. Data science and machine learning are transforming the way researchers delve into huge databases of text and images to make new discoveries about the past.
By studying an arts major like archaeology, digital humanities, Indigenous studies or cultural management, and combining it with skills in coding, drone tech, machine learning, AI, software development or data science, you could have a future in preserving the past!
Reconstructing the past with data and AI
At the University of Auckland, archaeology researchers are using digital imaging, machine learning and AI to analyse stone fragments and determine whether they were once part of tools used by Māori ancestors. The system can also create a digital reconstruction of the original object to show what it might have looked like.
The project will help process and catalogue a huge number of artefacts and make them accessible to researchers worldwide. It’s just one way technology can help bring the past to life!
Start your career here
Technology + language and culture study
- Certificate IV in Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management, La Trobe University
- Bachelor of Arts (Digital Humanities), ANU
- Bachelor of Arts (Māori Development), Auckland University of Technology
- Bachelor of Digital Media, University of South Australia
- Master of Heritage Conservation, University of Auckland
Technology + language and culture jobs
- Archaeologist A$53K-A$145K/NZ$46K-NZ $73K
- Archivist A$56K-A$98K/NZ$53K-NZ $68K
- Museum Curator A$44K-A$90K/NZ$47K-NZ $84K
- Software Developer A$51K-A$104K/NZ$50K-NZ $94K*
*Salaries according to payscale.com
This article was was originally published in Careers with STEM: Technology.