MBIE has announced a $13 million investment in Te Hiku Media for Papa Reo, a multilingual language platform that will develop cutting edge natural language processing tools, starting with te
reo Māori. The tools will enable applications to be built that will ensure all New Zealanders can use te reo Māori when
engaging with their digital devices. New Zealand English and Pacific languages will also be included to further support
the growth of a multilingual Aotearoa.
Formed in 1991, Te Hiku Media
is an organisation committed to the revitalisation of tikanga and te reo Māori. Founded as a not-for-profit, Te Hiku
Media serves as a monument to the demonstrated courage and action of the community during the critical Māori rights
recognition period. Kaumātua (tribal elders) established Te Hiku Media as an innovative iwi broadcaster to share local
topical issues in te reo Māori, gather stories and maintain te reo o te kāinga (language of the home) as a method of
communication. In 2013, kaumātua from Ngāti Kuri, Te Aupōuri, Ngāi Takoto, Te Rarawa and Ngāti Kahu encouraged the CEO,
Peter-Lucas Jones, to pursue technological innovation and secure a digital future for te reo Māori in a rapidly moving
and uncertain digital landscape.
Peter-Lucas Jones says, “Te Hiku Media will continue to play a critical role in Māori language revitalisation and iwi
broadcasting by improving and maintaining native Māori language pronunciation and expression through digital innovation
and Māori data sovereignty. Te Hiku Media is an experienced kaitiaki of Māori data and iwi led corpus gathering
campaigns for the promotion and growth of te reo Māori and tikanga Māori.”
“Te Hiku Media are pleased to receive this funding and lead the development of the data science platform, Papa Reo. This award celebrates the efforts of the haukāinga to innovate digitally and it recognises the work we have done over
the last six years to build digital capability in the science and te reo Māori spaces.”
Te Hiku Media gained a Vision Matauranga Capability Fund placement in 2015 with Engineer and Physicist Keoni Mahelona to
build science and innovation capabilities within the organisation. Then from 2017/2018, Te Hiku Media were Ka Hao: Māori Digital Technology Fund recipients and developed the first te reo Māori automatic speech recogniser in a project called Kōrero Māori
. Te Mātāwai also funded Te Hiku Media for the development of a digital pronunciation prototype for te reo Māori.
“The data science platform funding is the culmination of years of hard work and proving that Te Hiku Media can deliver
groundbreaking digital innovation from the haukāinga. Crucial to this has been and will continue to be our strategic
relationships and dynamic collaborations, and we look forward to developing our newest strategic project relationship
with Dragonfly Data Science.”
Peter Lucas Jones says that Wellington-based Dragonfly Data Science was engaged during the Kōrero Māori project to
support Te Hiku Media with the development of speech tools for te reo Māori. Dragonfly specialises in the application of
machine learning and statistical analysis, and their expertise in data science makes them a key partner for Papa Reo.
Alongside New Zealand-based academics and experts in linguistics, te reo Māori and machine learning, the investment will
allow for the collaboration to extend beyond Aotearoa, bringing in critical global expertise including Cambridge
University’s Speech Group and Oxford University academics. A unique collaboration for the project is with the machine
learning group at Mozilla, a non-profit tech company known for the Firefox web browser.
will build Aotearoa’s data science capability in machine learning and data stewardship through kaitiakitanga. The
project team includes relationships with academic institutions who will provide supervision for PhD students and
post-doctoral fellowships. We look forward to hearing from people interested in machine learning, artificial
intelligence and te reo Māori.