Better Together? Queen's Hall symposium explores AI and Carnival

 Paparazzi  masquerader crosses the stage at  South Quay,Port of Spain, on February 21, 2023. - JEFF K. MAYERS
Paparazzi masquerader crosses the stage at South Quay,Port of Spain, on February 21, 2023. - JEFF K. MAYERS

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to "scale up" Trinidad and Tobago Carnival and there is also the threat of being left behind by other carnivals, said Leslie Lee Fook, leading data transformation strategist and educator in the Caribbean.

Lee Fook will be delivering the keynote address The Emergence of AI as a Ubiquitous Tool at Queen's Hall Together AI Symposium on September 18.

Speaking to Newsday in a telephone interview, he said "AI is both the biggest threat and opportunity to us.

"I feel we are not taking advantage of it."

Keynote speaker Leslie Lee Look.

He said while AI is not new, recently generative AI, such as ChatGPT, presents significant differences from what came before. He explained the landscape had changed in the last couple of months in three ways, namely: the barriers to access are so low from a cost perspective that anyone can get access; the learning curve is little to none; and there is very broad capability and it can be applied to "pretty much anything."

"Once you can use Google you can use these engines. And for those reasons (I) believe it is there to stay."

Lee Fook said he has been speaking about AI for a very long time and has conducted trainings and workshops across the Caribbean. He added that this year "everyone is talking about AI" and he will be making his keynote address an immersive experience for people to more tangibly understand what it is.

On the benefits of AI and Carnival, he explained it can be used to scale up Carnival in unprecedented ways. He said bands like Tribe have already embraced AI.

On the threats, Lee Fook said every large metropolitan city was adopting AI and many had some form of carnival such as Toronto's Caribana, Notting Hill, and Miami Carnival.

"They can quickly scale faster than us."

Queen's Hall general manager Garfield George said last year Queen's Hall began hosting its own productions as a fundraiser and held the gala, Together.

"After the pandemic, we felt it was an opportunity to bring clients, patrons and staff back together. Hence the name 'together.'"

For this year, the board felt Republic Day was an ideal opportunity to celebrate togetherness not only as a people "but what makes Queen's Hall, Queen's Hall."

George recalled the board wanted to continue with the theme of togetherness for 2023 and showcase the versatility of Queen's Hall, St Ann's as a space by moving from a gala fete to an educational symposium.

He noted that Queen's Hall falls under the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts and one of the ministry's thrusts is to market this country as not only a destination for culture but for meetings and conferences.

Queen's Hall general manager Garfield George. -

"We want to support that thrust."

Together on AI

On the topic of AI, he explained the board felt the subject has created a lot of buzz around the world and was very important to the creative sector.

"We wanted to focus on AI and how it impacts the performing arts and the creative sector, and more importantly the Carinval sector."

He expressed hope the symposium could help uncover the role of AI and how it can benefit Carnival bands in areas such as costume design.

"(It provides) possibilities to be more creative. Designers can push boundaries and innovate."

He continued: "It's a tool and we have to use this tool to enhance our work."

He added AI can play a role in Carnival in terms of facilities and road management.

"How do we use it as an ally to enhance the experience of revellers and schedule productions not just for Carnival but for Queen's Hall (in general) as well. We just want to ensure the richness of our culture remains vibrant and engaging."

The symposium will feature two panels, with the first being, AI and the Performing Arts: The Caribbean Paradigm. It will be moderated by Ainka Williams and panellists will include, award-winning musician, musical director and producer Carl "Beaver" Henderson; Microsoft innovative educator expert Keith Laban; artistic director, Tobago Performing Arts Co Rayshawn Pierre-Kerr, Balroop’s Sound Systems CEO Vishnu Balroop and UTT Professor of modern dance La Shaun Prescott.

Prescott told Newsday said there are many things unexplored with the topic.

UTT Professor of modern dance La Shaun Prescot. -

"Coming from a Caribbean perspective we don't want to be too far behind in the game. So, I am really glad Queen's Hall took the initiative to bring this at this time. And hopefully, we can have some really fruitful discussions and policymakers can be there to implement the recommendations that should be coming forth."

She added a lot of the discussion internationally has focused on music and film, and she was therefore pleased with the choice of panellists for the symposium.

"I believe performing arts is something that should not be overlooked. And I'm glad to bring my perspective as a choreographer and a dancer. And also Carnival arts. That is a unique perspective to us. So I am looking forward to hearing things from that panel as well.

The second panel is H-A.I. Mas: The Potential Impact of Artificial Intelligence on T&T Carnival and will be moderated by Jayron "Rawkus" Remy. The panellists include Carnival band producer/designer (Lost Tribe) Valmiki Maraj; technical director, Advance Dynamics Alvern Porter; Carnival band leader and creative consultant (Caesar’s Army) Jules Sobion; entertainment and sports lawyer Carla Parris; and UTT programme leader of Carnival studies Dr Kela Francis.

Parris told Newsday the use and ownership of AI-generated music, fashion and works of art "are now some of the most controversial issues in intellectual property law around the world."

"In Hollywood, AI surged to the forefront of labour disputes this year with contract breakdowns that led to an actors' strike. Many were concerned about AI technology replacing human writers, images and voices, and studios leveraging the technology to reproduce their art without fair compensation.

"Trinbagonians are arguably some of the most creative people on earth so how do we deal with this technology as performing artists, designers, event producers and entrepreneurs in the Carnival industry?"

Entertainment and sports lawyer Carla Parris -

She said the question was whether AI help us or hurt our creativity as we seek to innovate every year in Carnival and create new pathways for the business of Carnival.

"I think staying ahead of the curve with this evolving technology is crucial, so having this symposium where we explore the implications of AI for intellectual property law is a must."

Right for US

Dr Kela Francis said she is looking forward to the discussion because she believes society is at a tipping point.

"We need to make a conscious decision about technology and where we go with it."

She said one of the anxieties of a small nation-state like ours is that we will be left behind and that we will be cast aside because we do not have the latest technologies.

Panellist Dr Kela Francis -

"But we should also pay attention to the quality of life, the deeper quality of life, of those people who are supposedly more technologically advanced. And I remember (Barbadian) Prime Minister Mottley’s call for us to pivot, to embrace our Caribbean ingenuity as a way to solve those issues facing us as emerald flecks in deep blue seas. Pivoting isn’t having the latest tech innovation. Pivoting is developing the right tech for US, by US.

"So, how do we do that with AI? How can AI be a tool and not a replacement? Or worse still, our neo-enslaver? This symposium gives us a chance to discuss this. To hopefully put aside the paranoia and Luddite fear, to pivot positively towards a better future, starting with the arts. Culture is the soul of a people."

George said the event is free and reported more than 550 people have already registered out of 700, including over 200 secondary school students and some tertiary students.

"That is a testament to the interest we are getting."

He predicted the majority of the registered attendees would be from the creative arts sector and are interested in how AI could impact and benefit the sector.

Asked what some of the goals of the symposium George are replied:

"We hope to start a conversation, influence policymakers and improve investment in the creative arts."

He added: "Set sights on a future where the tradition and culture is elevated through the powers of AI. It is not a competition. It is about how we can work together with it."

In the lobby of the event, there will be displays by Cariri, TSTT, advertising agency 10 Caribbean, NIHERST and the UTT.

More info:

For more info or to register go to or call 376-5699 for assistance.


"Better Together? Queen’s Hall symposium explores AI and Carnival"

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