Research highlights opportunities and risks of AI for heritage organisations - Museums Association

Research highlights opportunities and risks of AI for heritage organisations

Main uses of AI include managing collections, visitor experience and commercial operations
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AI has multiple applications, including image generation. This picture, 'People using AI in a museum', was created using the Generative AI tool Gencraft
AI has multiple applications, including image generation. This picture, 'People using AI in a museum', was created using the Generative AI tool Gencraft

A new piece of research has shone a light into how heritage organisations are adopting AI technology in their work – and highlights some of the risks of its application, including copyright infringement and chatbot misinformation.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) commissioned Mathilde Pavis, of the University of Reading, to unpack emerging uses of AI across museums, galleries, libraries and archives after a survey it carried out in June found that 24% of these organisations are already using the technology.

However, 65% of respondents had not considered how they might use AI in the future.

Attitudes towards AI as a force for good or evil were mixed: 39% surveyed said AI presented an opportunity, while 26% felt it posed a risk. And 35% were either neutral or said they did not know.

In her research, Pavis identifies a number of risks that come from AI including: a risk of discrimination when using AI to identify people in images; copyright infringement when AI is used to source protected content; and misinformation from chatbots.

She also warns of a lack of transparency around AI-produced content that could damage public trust, and that AI may also replace some jobs or volunteer roles.

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However, the research notes that there are solutions to these risks, from rigorous testing for discrimination, inaccuracies and transparency issues to developing policies around the use of AI.

“We are starting to see AI being used in several innovative and useful ways in museums, libraries and galleries,” Pavis said.

“Many risks come with using AI, but as cultural leaders, heritage institutions are uniquely positioned to mould AI innovation. Realising the technology's promise requires sector-wide collaboration on its challenges."

The research includes examples of how organisations are using AI, such as the National Museum of the Royal Navy and the University of Southampton pilot to standardise catalogue data for their image collections to improve their searchability.

The British Museum has partnered with the Alan Turing Institute to produce more insightful analyses of visitor behaviours by using AI systems to link and process information contained in emails, comment cards, online reviews and Wi-Fi access.

And the National Gallery has developed its own AI systems to predict the popularity of temporary exhibitions using attendance data from up to 20 years of exhibitions.

Call for case studies

Practical applications for AI technology in museums will be the subject of an article in a future edition of Museums Journal.

If you would like to feature as a case study, please email Rebecca.Atkinson@museumsassociation.org

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