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How Are Museums Using Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing museums by enhancing visitor experiences and streamlining operations. From interactive virtual guides and personalized tours to predictive maintenance and sentiment analysis, AI is transforming how museums engage with audiences and manage their collections, ensuring a more dynamic and efficient future for the industry.

Artificial intelligence, or “AI,” is a powerful tool being used all around us — and its influence continues to grow. While the concept dates back to the 4th century B.C. when Aristotle developed syllogistic logic, AI as we know it began taking shape in the 1950s. Defined as “the study and design of intelligent agents,” AI involves systems that perceive their environment and take actions to maximize their chances of success. Research in AI leverages insights from fields including computer science, psychology, linguistics, probability, and logic.

If you’ve talked to Siri or Alexa, you’ve used AI. If you found a new favorite documentary on Netflix or avoided traffic with Google Maps, you, too, have benefited from AI. The technology allows us to get answers more quickly, make fewer errors, and better understand our fellow humans. As AI technology advances, the museum industry has been increasingly integrating AI to enhance both visitor experiences and operational efficiency.

AI in Museum Visitor Experiences

When it comes to museums, AI can be incorporated across the spectrum, from visitor experience to behind the scenes. In 2016, Paris’ Musée du quai Branly made a home for Berenson, the robotic art critic created by anthropologist Denis Vidal and robotics engineer Philippe Gaussier. Berenson used AI to record visitors’ reactions to art and develop its own aesthetic preferences. Through a camera in its eye, it recorded reactions, shared them with a computer, and adjusted its own responses based on the feedback.

museums artificial intelligence

Just as humans evolved, so have museum robots — but at an exponentially faster pace. In 2015, the world was introduced to Pepper, a humanoid robot developed by Aldebaran Robotics. Pepper answers visitors’ questions and tells stories using voice, gestures, and an interactive touch screen. Six of these robots occupy three Smithsonian museums, and the institution plans to introduce more Peppers in the future.

Recent Innovations and Interactive AI

AI-powered virtual guides are a recent innovation. In 2022, the Louvre introduced “Leonardo,” an AI-driven virtual assistant that provides personalized tours and real-time information. This enhances the visitor experience by making it more interactive and informative.

Augmented reality (AR) combined with AI is also gaining traction. The British Museum’s AR app, launched in 2023, uses AI to create immersive experiences, allowing visitors to see historical artifacts in their original context through their smartphones or AR glasses.

AI for Accessibility and Inclusion

Accessibility is a major focus for museums using AI. The Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro has continued to enhance its IRIS+ chatbot, now offering real-time sign language translation for deaf visitors and personalized audio descriptions for the visually impaired. These advancements make the museum more inclusive and accessible to all visitors.

The Rapid Rise of AI in 2024

The year 2024 has seen a rapid rise in AI technologies becoming an integral part of everyday life. Notable advancements include Chat GPT, an AI language model by OpenAI, which provides highly accurate and human-like text generation, transforming customer service, content creation, and more. Google Gemini, another significant development, has revolutionized AI by offering advanced predictive analytics and real-time data processing, enhancing decision-making across various industries.

Museums have started leveraging these technologies to further enhance visitor engagement and operational efficiency. Chat GPT is being used to create interactive and personalized experiences, offering visitors detailed information and answering queries in real-time. Google Gemini’s predictive capabilities help museums manage visitor flow, optimize exhibit placements, and predict maintenance needs.

AI Behind the Scenes

AI is revolutionizing museum operations behind the scenes as well. The Smithsonian Institution uses AI for predictive maintenance, employing sensors and machine learning algorithms to forecast equipment failures and schedule timely repairs. This proactive approach reduces downtime and maintenance costs, ensuring smoother operations.

AI-driven sentiment analysis is another powerful tool. By analyzing and interpreting visitor comments, natural language technology can gauge satisfaction, emotions, and key themes, providing valuable insights that would take months of manual analysis to achieve.

Engaging Audiences with AI

AI also plays a role in audience engagement. In 2016, Tate partnered with Microsoft to issue its IK Prize to digital creatives. The winning project, Recognition, matched digitized artworks with up-to-the-minute photojournalism, allowing visitors to explore Tate’s collection in new ways. A similar initiative by Google’s Arts & Culture app went viral with its Art Selfie feature, which used facial recognition to match users’ selfies with portraits in museum collections.

Future Prospects and Ethical Considerations

New AI applications are being developed every day, aiming to make life more enjoyable and understandable. Elizabeth Merritt, director of the American Alliance of Museums’ Center for the Future of Museums, has envisioned AI applications that bring historical figures to life through chatbots using their writings, archives, and oral histories. In 2023, this became a reality with several museums introducing AI-driven historical figure interactions.

While the possibilities for AI in museums are endless, there is a need to exercise caution as the technology evolves. Museums must address issues of privacy, bias, and ethical responsibility. Chris Michaels, digital director of the National Gallery in London, emphasizes the importance of aligning AI with the public purpose of institutions and retaining value in the public sphere.

Conclusion

As AI continues to integrate into our daily lives and museum operations, the question remains: Will museums continue to embrace this digital frontier? Angie Judge, CEO of Dexibit, highlights the potential divide AI could create between institutions. “Just as with the age of the internet and the digital revolution, AI will quickly create a world of the haves and have nots. I hope the museum sector will find itself on the right side of that equation.”

By leveraging AI responsibly, museums can enhance visitor experiences, streamline operations, and remain relevant in an increasingly digital world. The future of AI in museums is bright, but it requires careful navigation to ensure ethical and effective implementation.

About the author – Lauren Styx

Lauren Styx is a magazine editor and freelance journalist in Chicago. Her storytelling explores health, culture, sustainability, and the ways in which those areas intersect.

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