It is a morning full of excitement for Priya Goswami and the entire team at Mumkin, they have been declared winners of the PassionFund Gold Winner by Linktree. I am excitedly waiting in front of my screen for an interview with my Sony voice recorder. I logged in a few minutes early, excited to know more about Mumkin and also about Priya and her journey from a filmmaker to a tech-creator.
Priya Goswami is the CEO and the creator of the Mumkin app, it is an AI-driven app that creates stimulations for the users to have “real-life conversations on gender, culture, and society.” Priya Goswami is a true communicator, in every sense of the word. In my interactions with her leading to the interview, I have been awed by the manner she communicates and facilitates communication, how careful she is to choose words and use them in describing situations and emotions. This very trait tells us about the creation of Mumkin, the app and their androgynous octopus which serves as their mascot.
As a feminist, I have always been excited about the possibilities to create using technology—and to critically look at the manner in which each technology is gendered under the garb of neutrality usually created and designed—in the Global North. The technology that we interact with on a daily basis was not created keeping in mind the marginalised and the underprivileged. It is another story of how we have started to use the technology according to our own needs, be it use of Twitter or other social media platforms to generate funds for education, or start conversations on obscured issues through the medium of technology, which is empowering communities and movements as it helps garner transnational support.
As a feminist creator, Priya Goswami understands the need for community building and uses technology for empowerment. Mumkin app enables difficult conversations, commits to empowering communities and also individuals. The current pilot version hosts several conversations on Female Genital Cutting or Khatna in Asian communities. They have AI-driven conversations that simulate real-life scenarios that help the conversant to initiate conversations on difficult themes. Priya Goswami has spent almost an entire decade supporting the anti-khatna movement, her National award-winning film, A Pinch of Skin – looks at the various perspectives on Khatna. “To open up to your family and to stand against them is the most gruelling challenge, there can be someone whom you really care about but can be against what you truly believe in. This was again such a felt experience in our own journey and in our own lives,” she says. Priya believes that one of the many goals the app tried to accomplish was to mitigate isolation, especially felt when one stands up against the beliefs of their families and close friends.
FemTech: Female technology or feminist technology?
Priya Goswami is a feminist creator who understands the need to bring about change within the tech industry. She is a filmmaker, an activist and now the creator of an app, juggling multiple hats and being the best at everything. She says that many of those who work the intersections of feminism, activism and technology are not practitioners themselves. “As a practitioner, I am exposed to and in 2019 as a creator, I was able to understand the myriad possibilities that technology allows.” She says that she found her space in technology, wherein she is able to look at possibilities of governing it democratically and in a holistic manner. It is crucial to develop the technological platforms in a manner that feminist messages are able to reach a larger audience without being threatened by those opposing them.
Ida Tin, the co-founder of Clue, a period tracker app is said to have coined the word FemTech for female technology whose meaning has been ever-expanding in the world of technology. Priya Goswami, states that fem-tech must not be limited to technology catering to those assigned female at birth but must also be feminist. She states, “Why can’t Twitter be feminist? Why can’t the browser we use be feminist? I want Twitter to be feminist, that they design their algorithms in a manner which is able to pre-empt rape threats.” There is a brief pause and I am able to look at what Priya Goswami envisions, she further elaborates, “All technologies must strive to be feminist technologies. FemTech must not be limited to certain bodily functions like period or fertility tracking apps, it must go beyond and envisage a society wherein all the current apps we use are feminist, be it Twitter, Facebook or Google. I hope to see them address their biases against women, gender and sexual minorities and people of colour in their algorithms.”
AI and community building
The discourse and narratives around Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been rife with debates and the manner in which technology is not gender-neutral, there are so many complex issues that AI has unravelled in the recent past. Priya Goswami brings in a different take on technology, she takes a moment and states, “What would it be for AI not to outperform humans? We have created Mumkin- an AI – not with the aim to be the fastest or to outperform humans but to make it a democratic space for everyone to come and use our platform.” She brings out the question of unconscious bias and aims to address multiple biases within technology in spite of all the time and energy it takes to confront them. Priya reiterates, “We need to look at AI as a space that allows us to be better in all aspects.” She notes that “the creation of any technology always bears the fingerprints of the creator” and states the importance of understanding the personal experiences of the users themselves. Mumkin is a space led with empathy because in her own words she mentions, “we know what it is to be witch-hunted, we know what it is to be thought less of and be underestimated by your own surroundings.” It is therefore important for us that all technology is led with empathy.
“At Mumkin, we do not paint everything with the same brush. We understand the different experiences of the individuals and are mindful that we create an AI-driven chatbot that is able to not only understand the positive emotions but also the negative emotions.” As someone who has interacted with the chatbot, I am able to connect the dots with how Mumkin was created and designed with empathy and towards community building. “We have constantly been learning, unlearning and relearning how we communicate to our users, our community.” There is so much optimism that one can hear in Priya’s voice, she makes us pause and rethink the manner in which technology has been a part of our lives. “The world is our oyster, and we are not here to give the fastest result in 0.65 milliseconds but rather to represent the 65 million stories out there.”
As for the future, Priya and her team at Mumkin are in the process of A/B testing two modules, one on domestic and gender-based violence and the other on LGBTQIA+ issues. “We want to see if there is a genuine uptake for these modules. We want Mumkin to be built in a manner that is not top-down but a bottom-up technology, we want to hear voices and opinions from the ground and work towards creating conversations within the app.” As for now, the app is currently focussed on urban areas, with an aim to expand to rural areas wherein “we have to take into cognisance the numerous hurdles like ownership of mobile and language, which will be done through intensive research.” There are so many possibilities that Mumkin intends in the upcoming years, and as Priya remarks, “Mumkin it is really in the name.”
Featured Image Source: Mumkin app