’When it comes to digital culture, we need to look at the Global South’

Payal Arora. Photo: Michelle Muus
Payal Arora. Photo: Michelle Muus
90 per cent of young people live outside the West and are using and generating data, and much of our current day innovations are emerging there. When looking at artificial intelligence (AI) and digital cultures, it is inevitable to look at the Global South, not in an extractive, but a co-creative way, newly appointed Professor of Inclusive AI Cultures Payal Arora states.

An inclusive view of AI and digital development pays off

"By looking at young people in the Global South not only as data users and generators, but as digital creators and innovators, we can learn much about the global futures of work and play, and everything in between," Arora finds. "Based on understanding these young people’s aspirations, digital behaviours and concerns, we can guide governments and companies. We can advise them on how to build global policies, technologies, and systems around responsible AI that centre the most marginalised, given that they are at the receiving end of the disproportionate negative impacts of new technologies."

Eurocentric worldview prohibits learning from others

Arora calls herself a ’digital anthropologist’ and looks at media cultures from the bottom up and from a user’s perspective. "Many Western organisations still hold top down and condescending views towards the Global South. Typically tech industries see them as copycat nations and aid agencies view them as mainly beneficiaries. This results in a failure to learn and co-create solutions to the world’s most formidable problems in climate change, social inequality, and the future of work."

Working with diverse stakeholders

Arora co-founded FemLab , an initiative that pays attention to marginalised workers’ experiences with platforms in the Global South. Within the platform these experiences are translated into insights and recommendations for different public and private stakeholders. This aligns with Arora’s belief that as academics, "we need to retrain ourselves to engage in an effective manner and focus on building common ground despite differences, to have societal impact."

Arora was born in India and lived and worked in the United States. She pursued her passion for global culture, technology, and communication by accumulating degrees from Harvard and Columbia University.

Since then, Arora has been studying digital usage among the global poor and consulting for numerous private and public sector institutions like Adobe and UNHCR. Her list of publications include The Next Billion Users: Digital Life Beyond the West (Harvard Press). Since January 2024, she is Professor of Inclusive AI Cultures at Utrecht University’s Faculty of Humanities.