AI on display at museums around the world, reports NYT

Folake Dosu
October 26, 2018
Updated: April 29, 2019
Folake Dosu
October 26, 2018
Updated: April 29, 2019

museums-artificial-intelligence-robots

Museums are steadily embracing AI as the lines between art and technology continue to blur at cultural institutions, reports The New York Times

For example, four-feet-tall humanoid robots (with the moniker Pepper), have made their way into three Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington D.C., charming visitors as informative guides and eager selfie-takers.

The robots have also endeared themselves to the museum team. Rachel Goslins, director of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building and overseer of the robots’ deployment, told the Times she has been “blown away” by visitors’ reactions to them.

Pepper, she described, “feels totally aligned with the museums’ mission. We are asking people to be present, engaged, to have a communal experience. We’re not making you look at your phone even more; we’re creating a playful, joyful human experience.” According to Goslins, 80 more robots from Softbank Robotics will ultimately join their ranks.

Outside of this foray into AI at the Smithsonian, The Times reports that museums of all sizes and geographies are using AI in all manner of ways from interactive robots like Pepper to analytics parsing through data on visitors, collections, admission policies and exhibition content.

"Any time you talk about an emerging technology, museums have an important role to play teaching the public about it. Artificial intelligence is going to be incredibly important in shaping the world we live in, in profound ways. We need to understand the technology and the issues it raises."

The Akron Art Museum offers visitors, Dot, its chatbot digital tour guide available on Facebook Messenger. Visitors using Dot are treated to a “choose your own adventure” tour of the museum’s permanent collection. The museum’s director, Mark Masouka, described Dot as a “a great way to connect people with art and each other. And she doesn’t require prior knowledge of the artwork.”

The Barnes Foundation of Philadelphia launched a new collection website last year that used artificial intelligence to sort thousands of works based on visual properties. The museum’s consulting creative technologist, Shelley Bernstein, tells The Times that the number of visitors going to the Barnes’s website has tripled after this display debuted.

Ethical concerns around the technology still loom. According to Robert Stein, executive vice president and chief program officer of the American Alliance of Museums, museums must be conscientious stewards of visitors’ personal information.

“Any time you talk about an emerging technology, museums have an important role to play teaching the public about it. Artificial intelligence is going to be incredibly important in shaping the world we live in, in profound ways. We need to understand the technology and the issues it raises,” added Elizabeth Merritt, director of the American Alliance of Museums’ Center for the Future of Museums.

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