The Rise of the Intelligent Machine

Today’s guest blog post is written by Kirsten Main, Account Executive, Patron Technology. 

Each year, the Center for the Future of Museums (CFM) releases an annual report highlighting top trends they believe will be highly significant to museums. These are trends that are apt to shape the ways museums engage with visitors, and will also likely affect how institutions equip themselves and their communities for the future. I always enjoy reading through the Trendswatch report because the identified trends are sometimes unexpected, always well researched, and inevitably worth exploring.

This year’s report (which can be downloaded from the CFM site here) did not disappoint. One identified trend that caught my eye was the one titled ‘The Rise of the Intelligent Machine’, which immediately made me think of HAL, the good computer gone bad in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Watson, the mega-machine that beat the pants off Jeopardy’s two greatest human champions in 2011.

The report goes on to discuss artificial intelligence (AI), and how its emergence holds both promise and peril. Whether AI is heaven sent or hell bent is being hotly contested in Silicon Valley at the moment — the April edition of Vanity Fair magazine has an excellent article on the debate — and is not likely to be decided soon. After all, the topic of AI brings up some heavy questions. Does the fate of humanity hinge on how we handle AI today? Will we all turn into cyborgs? Will AI vastly improve our lives?

While Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are duking it out over humanity’s future, I’m intrigued about what the AI trend means for museums. While it’s fun to imagine the fantastic (the Terminator leading a museum tour, or Roombas going crazy in galleries), the reality is that AI is already on the scene. Here are a few places we have already seen — or will see in the very near future — AI at work in the museum landscape:

  • Exhibits and programming aimed at educating and informing visitors about AI — what it means, who it affects, how we society will make decisions around its use
  • As a tool to handle museum data sets (of archival material, of digital images, of visitor data, etc.)
  • As a method to determine the authenticity of artwork
  • Providing services that have been previously been exclusively provided by humans — the CFM report identifies areas such as legal work, analytical work, and communications — all areas where AI is augmenting museum staff

How is AI being incorporated into your organization? And what changes will it bring? Perhaps only the future — and Watson — will tell.

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