Time Machines, Museums and the Future of the Past | SXSW 2021

Time Machines, Museums and the Future of the Past | SXSW 2021

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Hello everybody, my name is Tonya Nelson, and I'm London Area Director at Arts Council England. Arts Council England is the main funding body and development agency in England, and I'm absolutely delighted to be chairing this session, where we're gonna be considering the future of museums. I think we all rely on museums and archives to teach us about the past, using objects, paperwork, documents, but the rise of immersive technologies, coupled with artificial intelligence, are really providing unprecedented opportunities not only to bring the past to life, but to also think about our collections and archives as data that can be used to shape the future.

The idea for this session actually came from the "World of Dance". There's a British choreographer by the name of Wayne McGregor, who's been working with Google to create an AI-enabled choreography tool that will help him design and create new dances. And the data behind that is his personal archive of videos of his previous work. And this made me really think about, how will collections and archives be used in the future, how does this kind of concept apply in the museum world? And so I was really, really keen to get together this panel of people that I have with me today, to talk about that issue. So, I wanna introduce the panel. I have with me, Lawrence Chiles, who's head of Digital Services at the National Gallery in London, Michael Takeo Magruder, who is an artist, and Sarah Coward, who is CEO of the Forever Project.

And what I'd like to do to kick off this discussion, is to ask each of the panelists to paint a picture for us of the future of museums, drawing on the experience of their work, their expertise, and background. So let's kick it off with Lawrence. Lawrence tell us about what you think the future of museums will be.

Thank you Tonya (clears throat) Thank you for these provocations. I think that the museum or gallery in the future will have the potential to tell the rich and various stories of their collections in very different ways, and will probably be much more tailored and personalized to the individual. We know that museums are places that can transport visitors through those stories, with the ability to bring greater context is when it become more rich and more live.

There'll be hopefully spaces of greater interactions as well. At National Gallery, we've been exploring immersive storytelling, utilizing a range of technologies to create single and multi-room experiences, and we've seen how these have been very, very powerful for our visitors, we've been able to expand the narrative on one painting and provide layers of context that combine art historical research and scientific knowledge in compelling formats. Three examples of that, that the gallery is mostly recently produced; virtual Veronese. So VR headset experience played out in one of our main galleries in front of Paolo Veronese's consecration of Saint Nicholas. Leonardo experienced the masterpiece, which was a five-room immersive exhibition. It lead's you through the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, to explore his masterpiece, "The Virgin of the Rocks".

And then most recently Sensing The Unseen: Step into Gossaert's "Adoration", which is a personal journey through Jan Gossaert's "Adoration of the Kings"; through soundscapes, spoken word, high resolution imagery and gesture-based interaction. So this is virtual Veronese. A vast amount of our paintings we've created not for the walls of the gallery, but for somewhere else. And whether that's a church, a chapel, or personal commission, often creating a specific purpose, or message to convey. Virtual Veronese was our first step into exploring VR storytelling, and we worked in a co-funding model with story features. UK government funded body, set up to stimulate the UK economy, specifically around immersive storytelling.

And Virtual Veronese was the first challenge of project to be developed. Focused on Veronese's consecration of Saint Nicholas, which is created for a church in St. Benedetto Alpine in Northern Italy. What was great is that the project challenged the gallery to think hard about how to script often quite deep and complex stories, into a 10-minute experience. To be exposed to the more rapid method of digital production, and to understand the visitor needs and expectations, once they've been transported back in time from modern London to 16th century Italy.

Next one is let's say "Leonardo: Experience a Masterpiece", (orchestral music) and it's project a whole different scale and a major change in approach for our paid exhibition program. Both in collaboration with UK-based studio 59 Productions, it charts over five rooms, The story of Leonardo da Vinci's "Virgin of The Rocks", and deeper understanding that creation techniques and presentation (indistinct) 25 years to produce. The brief was to do this without words, to immerse the visitor in the story, through visual and theatrical techniques and to bring them to the painting in a room, for the Imagine Chapel, Chapel that no longer exists.

With this digital version he used to go from archival research. Again, one painting explored in depth, inviting visitors for a much closer look, and to give a broader understanding, of how we add knowledge of it. And finally Sensing The Unseen, which again takes one painting, but this time focuses much more on the painting itself, and the rich journey it takes you on. Creative with extensive user research, is a specific target audience, who follow in Human-centered design principles. The project sets out with one question to answer, how might we engage visitors in the visual detail of the painting and encourage slower looking.

We aim to enable a meaningful and emotionally engaging experience, accessible to diverse audiences, bringing to life the rich visual details, every level of the painting, and the cyclical nature of the key themes of rupture, transformation and renewal. (soft ominous music) I guess to know deeply one must look deeply. If I am experienced make extensive use of sound to create a sonified painting that existed within a full room soundscape, matching the depth and detail of the painting.

The visitor move from the paintings, one of three pods, but they could get closer to the detail using it just to interface the journey through high-res digital version. The experience continues back at the real painting with the voice of Balthazar, the guiding theme in the design of the experience with the relevance of the painting to our world today. To emphasize comparability, we commissioned three to Lola, until recently young poet Laureates for London to write a poem that explores about the experience in this transformative moment in time.

These three projects all use new tools and methods in displaying and interpreting our paintings. Drawing on data for new imaging techniques, for creating experiences that can transform these to across time and location. What's done specifically utilize AI or machine learning, the gallery is applying these tools, specifically in relation to visitor services and forecasting models, and also in relation to imaging techniques, and deepening our scientific knowledge. On the forecasting side, we've been looking at how to build models that help identify what factors might be the most important in terms of visits and numbers; as well as using natural language processing, across our social media engagement to help us identify key themes that people are engaging with. The gallery scientific team were involved in several research projects that are exploring the use of machine learning with data sets, for new imaging techniques to gain deeper insight into the construction and materiality of the collection.

There's interest in how to capture that, and include cultural heritage sector knowledge to enrich interpretation. There's a focus on tools and automation of methods both to deal with the overwhelming wealth data, but also to fully integrate the data sets to see if there are things that might've been missed, using more conventional approaches to processing the data. Particularly, drawing several types.

Simple fact is that we know our audiences are fascinated about what lies beneath the painting and the work the gallery does behind the scenes. So there's never a greater connection between the data that we have and the stories that we can tell. Thanks.

Thank you Lawrence. Michael, I'd like to hear your perspective on this question. Thanks, Tanya.

Well, for myself I really think the museum of the future will have this blend of historic objects, collections, and archives. And it will be fused with different combinations of emerging technology, most likely in areas related to socially generated big data, immersive VR experiences, like what Lauren sort of shared there. And also various forms of AI.

I don't think we're gonna get in any way rid of analog and physical collections, but we're gonna find ways to develop not only new born digital components and collections but also take what we have and virtually augment them, And to develop these sorts of new experiences. And in terms of why I feel this way and know this, I would say it's because I come from that 70s generation that kind of witnessed the onset of the digital age sort of firsthand. I lived through that in my childhood and also as an artist, so I've worked in this area for the better part of 25 years, doing projects that sort of visualize big data that are about building new virtual worlds and systems. And also for the last sort of 10 years, I've done a lot of work with digital archives and collections.

And in terms of sort of just showcasing one project which I think actually sums up is a good case study for the kind of things that I'm talking about. I just like to focus on a project I did with the British Library about two years ago called Imaginary Cities, and I'll just screen share here. And the project which ended up being this major solo exhibition there in the library, was all about taking historic maps and using those as the sort of generative sort of seeds if you will, for building this kind of digital fantastical cityscapes for the information age. But before I can talk about that, I need to talk about the collection that it comes from. That really kind of not only inspire the project but also the project is based on.

And that's the 1 million images from scanned books collection. And this is a collection that was created, by the British Library, in collaboration with Microsoft in sort of 2005, 2008, and it was a project that was looking at scanning about 65,000 Victorian era books, mostly English language, so 19th and 18th century books. And from that, the researchers there at the BL then used various image recognition techniques and machine learning to pull every single image, from that sort of digitized collection, and create this image database, and it ended up being around million images. And at the time British Library just wasn't quite sure what to do with this. And in 2013 they decided, "Well you know what we're gonna do? We're gonna actually put it onto Flickr comments, copyright free, anyone can use it."

And it was really quite amazing because there's just such a rich sort of varying materials there, in this 1 million images collection. And of course, when a collection becomes digital all these other things kind of can happen. So, you can start using big data methodologies to start to you know, sifting through. So of course, what I was interested in is maps. So of course I use various techniques to then sort of take from the 1 million images, to then go to the various maps, and then I wanted to get specific maps. So again you can sort of drill down and say pull out a map of London.

And then in the end, here is the map of London that I used for one of the artworks. So this idea of small data and getting precious data within this big data collection, that is only possible through using, these new kinds of processes and techniques that the digital affords us. And one thing you'll notice here, looking at this particular slide, is you have all these tags, this metadata. And this is another really good example of say machines and the processes of the digital, working alongside all analog human-based processes.

So in terms of how the collection became enriched with various metadata and tags, it was through a combination of on human side, experts, and then crowdsourcing, and even members of the public coming in, onto Flickr comments and tagging these images. And then on the other side, from the machine side, it was various researchers working with, use different kind of machine learning techniques to do automated generation of tags. So it is sort of the sum total of these two.

And so that really for me shows the power of this. And then as an artist, I was interested in not only using the digital collection item, to make these sort of procedural cities, but I wanted to use also the metadata, that metadata that was changing on a day-by-day, sometimes on an hourly basis. I thought that was a really nice clinical idea.

So just to kinda give you a sense of the show, I'll just show this very short video, that the library put together to promote it. ("Parsifal-Gasping" by Devon Church) And here are some images of the show. One thing you'll notice, and that is that, there are of course artworks. I did four particular pieces based on four cities. So one map, one installation and the pairs were basically, two from Europe and two from North America.

So from Europe, of course it had to be London and Paris, and from North America, I chose New York and Chicago. So this idea of using those maps, as you'll see here on this slide, here are the actual four maps, and the books that they came from, so this idea of bringing the digital, and the physical together, it was was quite important to me. So this idea of that the collection itself is this collection that embraces both the digital and the physical. And then, using those maps and through the techniques that I developed, which also we're putting on AI techniques, to actually then manipulate those to get the data, to then build these digital experiences in these digital objects. So this idea of the physical, getting them digitized, and then it comes, then it gets processed by myself as an artist and then comes back into a physical form, or as some kind of digital physical form like you see here, using a range of digital manufacturing techniques and such.

So, even down to something like this, this is the Paris work here and that this digital print on gold gilded, handmade objects, that had been procedurally generated through using machine techniques. And just to kind of finish up, the last installation was a VR experience. And this also makes a really nice point as well. One of the things I was hoping to achieve was not only show the Public all the interesting possibilities of digital collections and the research that had gone on in the BL over the last 20 years that would make this thing possible.

But I wanted to also show how an artwork or creative experience can actually be an interface for a collection itself. So this particular piece, which is imaginary cities, New York city, is again based off an old sort of, it's an 18th century map of New York in the early times. This actually gets generated every day live. So you get sort of using the combinations of the metadata that exists at that particular time when the city is generated, it's a brand new city for that moment in time, that changes with interaction. And one of the things that I did was actually every artwork, every installation had a QR code in a way to access the collection items. So people could actually be there in the library enjoying the artwork, they could scan the QR code on their phone.

They could see the collection item, they could interact with it, and then of course their interaction and also their tagging of things with the change the experience for people the next day. So it's that idea of the virtuous circle and the connections that we can build through the technologies we have now. So I think that's probably a good place for me to stop. Great, thank you, Michael. Sarah, I'd love to hear your perspective.

Thanks Tonya it's really great to be here with people who are talking about such interesting projects. And they're quite different from ours. But there's a real interconnection in terms of the physical and digital. So, yes, you set as a challenge to the thinking about what the museum of the future is going to be. And from our perspective, and from my perspective.

We really believe that the museum of the future will be one where the stories are told by the protagonists themselves. By the people that went through those events, or the artists themselves. And that we will be able to converse and convene with the witnesses of history, or with artists from a different time, or from a different geography, where people can tell their own stories, wherever they are in the world., but also whenever they are in the world. And although time travel itself isn't possible, by creating these asynchronous conversations, we're able to bring humans who might have lived at a different time, or might have lived in different place together with the visitors to a museum. And we know that because of the very powerful response that we're getting to our work.

The Forever Project creates voice interactive encounters, with people that you'd love to meet, whether that's artists, or witnesses, or musicians. And our work is both in the cultural sector, and in entertainment, and art. So just to give you a little bit of a sense of the historical context in particular with regards to museums. Our work started at The National Holocaust Central Museum, where we sought to preserve the experience that children have in meeting a Holocaust survivor.

And not just meeting a survivor, but being able to ask that survivor questions about their life and experience. So we worked with 10 survivors, we integrated ultra high definition footage, with natural language processing and voice recognition to enable kids in the future to be able to ask a digital image of that's survivor questions and receive response automatically. That was both done as a physical installation at the museum, but also created, which is what we're doing now; and creating it as a web-based experience. So as we touched on a little bit earlier through the other projects, this combination of this physical in-venue experience and online experience. So I'll just share a short video, from some work we did with Munich University, who were also focusing on Holocaust Survivor Testimony. So, in this video you'll be able to see young people conversing students at the university conversing with a Holocaust survivor, a survivor up in Iowa.

(Narrator speaks in a foreign language) (upbeat music) (Woman interviews in a foreign language) (Holocaust survivor answers in a foreign language) (Woman 2 speaks in a foreign language) (Woman 3 speaks in a foreign language) So, as you could hear through some of the young people talk about their experience. Although they know it's video, the very nature of the fact that it is a significant installation you can ask questions makes it feel like more sort of personal immersive encounter than you would otherwise get. In addition to working with that quite powerful and challenging content, we're also creating experience with musicians. So we've been very fortunate to work with Noel Rogers, who is the international musician and producer, and the man behind hundreds of hits. And what we've been able to create in association with the National Portrait Gallery is a digital voice interactive portrait of Nile.

And that's manifest across two different platforms. So one it's a VR experience, so people can enter a VR space, encounter Nile, and ask him questions about his life and experience, he might even play something for you. And also the same content is manifested as a web browser online experience. So you can have a voice interactive conversation with Nile wherever you are.

I'll just show you still from that, so you can get an idea of what it looks like. So that is the marvelous Nile Rodgers, thoroughly enjoying himself on set. And I wanted to share that image because a lot of organizations currently working deep fakes. Which I completely understand why.

One of the reasons why we're sticking with video at the moment is the authenticity of this human-to-human connection. That is so important in terms of the visceral understanding of that individual, that you get through this type of content. And it's very difficult to fake laughter, experience, wisdom, and it makes a fundamental difference to the way in which people interpret digital media.

Hope that gave you a good insight into what we're trying to achieve. Thank you, Sarah. I think each of you have presented a really exciting vision for the future in terms of museums.

But what I find myself being curious about now is, when we first started having this discussion, it was Pre-COVID. And now we've had a period of time where COVID has forced us to shut down and to engage digitally. And I was just wondering from your perspectives, how has the digital shifts that has been driven by COVID changed your point of view or reinforced your point of view about where we're gonna go in terms of the future of museums and this kind of immersive AI world? Sarah, could you answer that question first? Yeah, so I think that it's really reinforced our work and the need for the work, I think it's really reinforced the need to be multi-platform. I think if you're not able to respond to changes in needs for digital experiences and move across physical and digital, as Michael was touching on earlier on, you're creating a lot of risk.

And I think that a lot of organizations have for a long period of time, treated digital as a kind of add on that they really should be thinking about but they never get the time, they've never got the money, it's always something that's a kind of they put in their 'innovation pot', rather than something that's fundamental. And I really hope that what's happened with the pandemic is that people are seeing digital as something they need to plan in, to embed firmly into everything they're doing, in a much more strategic and ambitious, and on risk-taking way than they ever have done. And I think from that point of view, that acceleration will be significant over the next couple of years. Great, thanks. Michael what's your kind of take on that? How has COVID shifted things from your perspective? Well, for myself.

I really think that it's reinforced my thoughts, for the last 10 years, I've really been trying to get things off the screen, absolutely, off the screen and into a physical experience, but also in something like you saw all the imaginary cities of the work that I'm doing with the National Art College right now. 'Cause I'm their artists in residence there at the archives. I'm thinking about how to develop things that are physical, that kind of bring the two worlds together. And in terms of that idea of having this augmented experience, i think COVID has absolutely reinforced that in so far as that we miss, we will credit, we will come out of this wanting all of those physical things. The enjoyment of culture is often not a solitary thing.

We want to be with people in spaces. You don't wanna just watch the film at home on your laptop; you want to be in the cinema, you want to go to the theater, you want to go to the gallery. You want to actually go with your friends, and your families, your colleagues, you wanna have those nice kind of connections where all of a sudden you might meet someone you don't know.

We want all of these things, these things that we can't do in our house. But I think that one of the things like what Sarah was talking about is that over this sort of forced different way of living that we've all been experiencing. I think the public will gain a new appreciation for things that are digital.

And they will see and start to understand what is possible. And I do think that there will be certain kinds of expectations there because when we've been limited to being at home, and we still can actually have enjoyment, we can still kind of reach out into culture, and the average person will have experienced so many different things. And then will they necessarily want to go back to just the standard old school analog only experience.

I would say, "No." Because they'll have seen other possibilities. And I think everyone you have assembled here, we are all trying to get those possibilities to come together.

I do think when we emerge from this, it will be positive for the kind of work that we're trying to accomplish. Thank you Michael. Lawrence, what's your perspective? Gosh there's so much to say about the learnings of the last, well easy not for phrase of the last 12 months.

It's affected us in so many ways. It should be said that the Gossaert's experience that I've shown, it was in production through the whole of this period, and the way we had to change, even thinking about what was going to be produced was something that was seriously considered, created difficulties in terms of the production, in terms of how we were even ways of working. But all that because that project was rooted in quite an agile process, we were able to find our way through and still keep the themes, but turn things around to kinda be presented, knowing that we were gonna open.

The project actually was open for seven days and had to close. So it's kind of then flipped things around again, and we've already been developing an online version of that particular project, during this period of lockdown in the UK, which will hopefully be out before we actually reopen again. But I think as Michael just said that in many respects it's opened a lot of opportunities. The National Gallery was in quite a good position in terms of its digital offering across everything that we do. But it was as I had said, it still felt not with (indistinct) to the side but it was some things are kind of treated on their own, whether that's social media, or whether that's...

Its over there doing its separate thing, and I think what's really happened is that for some people that didn't even know these things were there and have been really craving it, and therefore exposing themselves, wanting that culture and realizing that actually there's a lot of digital content and digital culture available, and then that's leading to the acceptance actually of using digital to actually engage with the sort of themes or the content that we have. So there's this barrier between the real and the digital was kind of especially the National Gallery. I think for all places which have authentic objects, it's always been this sort of tussle between the authentic objects and the digital. We've never in all the projects I've presented, it was never about trying to present one or the other.

It was all always about utilizing the tools to bring you back to the artifact, to look at it with fresh eyes, and to really understand the seriality or the realm. And I think what spots potentially very positive and certainly to all the surveys that we've done during this period and the way people have engaged with our digital content, I think it has opened up opportunities, because people are maybe a bit more accepting even down to doing an online course. And that's something they might have considered. And now people are craving it. So, I'm optimistic about how people might be more accepting of using digital technologies for consuming culture in this way. Fantastic, thank you.

I mean, just kind of building on Lauren what you were saying, and Sarah what you were saying, about the the merging of digital and physical and not thinking of those as separate silos and any other thoughts. I guess for those museum practitioners who are out there, what needs to change about the way museums operate in order to be able to kind of capitalize on the advantages of new technologies and digital. What do you think needs to shift? It's an incidential moment I think. There's a lot of work going on around kind of skill sets in museums and galleries.

There's two major projects that are happening there that are really examining that. And it's a ever changing thing, but I've been in museums and galleries for quite a few years, and haven't seeing it change even in the time I've been here. In terms of the backing and organization might give to it. But I think technology is cheaper and therefore there's a wealth of opportunities.

It really does come down to audiences though. We're never gonna try and... We also look at what's going on around other organizations, but it's never about trying to recreate what someone else has necessarily done. It's always got to think about, what is your real reason for the work you have, the collection that you have, or the stories you're trying to tell, and really understanding the audiences. Gossaert examples, can't stress it enough is that, we worked with over 70 members of the public on that project, throughout the whole of the project. And it's not about them dictating what we were going to do but it was just that trialing, and prototyping, and investing in that kind of process.

Leads to a really, really rigorously tested project which will benefit everybody. And I think that's an upraise we've had for that project is really highlighted that. And I think it is a bit about skillsets, but it's kind of how you set up the process of the project itself, and trial and error, and not being afraid to fail as well. I think you've got to kind of try some of those things to understand what does and doesn't work. We're lucky, when we're open, we have a gallery with lots of engaged people. So we try to encourage all aspects of our projects to go out into the gallery floor and test, test, test with people just to get the right kind of outcome.

Great, Michael, you work as an artist and you work with the British Library, so you have a bit of an outsider's perspective on that. I wonder what your thoughts are about how you think institutions that hold collections need to be able to change to work with people like you, or to be able to capitalize on the technology available. Well, I've been fortunate to work with institutions that are willing to explore this area and also willing to change normal practice. So if I think about the two sort of major residencies I've had in the last three or four years with the British Library and the National Archives.

Which were the two main memory institutions of the UK. And they've been very receptive. I was actually invited to come in and to work with them and they were willing to learn from me. And I thought that was really wonderful, because it wasn't that I was having to come in as an artist who's been working in this area for sort of decades and just thinks about sort of technology and the creative uses of technology.

and just, pretty much every waking moment, that we could find sort of common points, common intersections, and that they were open to trying new things. So like one of the things that kind of really struck me from what Lauren said, is this idea of getting feedback of having things be participatory for audiences, or developing new audiences and coming with an open mind, being willing to be agile, to prototype things. So it's funny I use the term prototyping all the time for both of those projects. The first phase was about developing prototypes, and then getting feedback, before we then move on to the finished kind of experiences. And so, to do that kind of project, you do need development time, you do need resources. It can't be some kind of cheap cousin of the physical traditional experience.

I think that's one of the important things. And I hope, one of my hopes is that more institutions will actually engage with that because they've gone through this period where that's all they've got. You know, once we emerged from that, they'll actually be willing to take some more risks because actually they're not risks, they are opportunities to kind of push new boundaries, and you can do that with collaboration. That's kind of my thoughts about it.

Great, and Sarah, I mean, as a kind of technology partner with institutions, I guess what would be your perspective on this question? I think just picking up on some of the themes that Michael and Lawrence have said. I think there's this issue around moving from new techniques or exploring new techniques as being somewhat of a gimmick, to attract funding, for example, to something which is an attitude which is more about how can those organizations plan for getting real value. So both being exploratory and risk-taking but also thinking about the depths. So both the projects that Michael and Lawrence have talked about seem to have a real richness to them. So there's elements of sort of co-creation, and involvement of the audience, and speaking to people, and the richness of the actual experiences themselves which are really sort of multilayered as far as I can see.

And with our own work there's that that richness of the conversational content and the assets. And I think if organizations can see those, both the processes and the outcome as being something that has depth and value, rather than something, somewhat sort of flippant as a sort of digitalist side. I think then they'll really start to invest, and explore, and think about themselves as institutions completely differently. I mean, it's one of just really the things I find really interesting still working with the National Holocaust Central Museum, which is a medium-sized museum in the UK.

But because they've got such an interesting attitude now to digital reach, they don't see themselves as that size because the digital work they do can reach kids throughout the country, and that's really important, I think. Thank you, Sarah. Obviously, we've all presented quite an optimistic and really exciting kind of vision of the future. But there are always disadvantages to technology, and I was wondering, I wanted to have a conversation really about ethics. And Sarah you mentioned in your presentation about deep fakes versus what your organization is doing. I was hoping you could kind of kick off, by highlighting what you think are the challenges, ethical challenges that might come out of using these technologies, and just what should people be aware of? One of the things to keep an eye on at the moment is Adobe's Content Authenticity Initiative, which as many people watching this might know is really trying to look at how can people see through what has been done to digital media.

So that there's an understanding that people can assess what has happened to a digital piece before they see it. And so I think there's still be a growing concern about what's real and what isn't, how do you prove something that's real? Is this is a real piece of footage, is it not? And I think the Content Authenticity Initiative and other initiatives like that could make a big difference in terms of trust. But also I think I was looking at and working with young people on who's sitting behind. If you're working with an AI, for example, or an AI AI interface, we should be asking questions, who is putting those words in that person's mouth, how old are they, what sex are they, what race are they, what are their personalities? Because there's a huge difference between what might be presented to you and who is feeding that AI the lines to talk really. So I have got some concerns about that and I'm pleased that it's becoming more of a discussion point going forward. Michael, do you have any thoughts on the question of ethics? Absolutely, it's something that probably most of my projects for the last 20 years.

In some way touch on. I think undoubtedly we live in a day and age of things like racist AI and deep fakes. For me the problem with something like say a deep fake, is first and foremost, it's about sort of issues of consent in the subject themselves. So, I really really appreciate what Sarah has done in terms of the projects that she has helped develop, because it puts the person, the subject, there right center when it comes to their rights and how they want to present themselves. Deep fakes are a deeply disturbing thing for me.

Not only in terms of issues, we hear about them in terms of fake news. But in terms of sort of rights of the individual. And I think that's something that often gets lost.

And then moving on to things like racist AI, the fact that we've actually seen this, and we've seen this come out of big technology providers like Microsoft had that, relates with well-known example from years ago. I think as cultural institutions, and museums, and galleries, start to use these technologies. They have to be aware of this as an absolute problem, and that we can't just leave the machine to do its own thing.

We have to understand that collections have inherent biases. Look at the 1 million images collection that I used; it's a white Western centric, Victorian era collection. There are absolute biases there, and during the course of my project with the BL, often we found these really challenging source books that you could not show them today, without proper sort of contextualization, and careful curation. So on one hand you don't wanna burn the book, but on the other hand, you can't just put it out, or even worse, let some kind of machine learning.

Just make decisions for you. Because if you remove the person, then you have those issues. So that's sort of on one side of things, on the other side that I find deeply problematic and hopefully people will be thinking more about this, because of the pandemic is the digital divide. So I've sort of preached about the digital divide and sort of digital access, for the better part of 20 years. And the pandemic has absolutely brought that into focus. So we talk about all these wonderful things; we talk about augmentation of collections.

And we have to understand that, if we're thinking about things like say access to come into a great institution like the National Gallery. There are always no issues there, If you know who has access and ease of access to that, physically. But we as we develop sort of augmented digital virtual experiences, that also has access requirements, and I really hope institutions and the wider public will be thinking about that, because what we don't want to do is create sort of another layer of people that don't have access that, that are excluded. So those are some of the things that kind of come to mind. Thanks, Michael.

Lawrence, any final thoughts on that question? Yeah, there's a few things for us I mean, obviously as a 200-year-old institution, now, it's all about the authenticity of the works and we know that there's fakes within the art market. I think museums or galleries have a role to play with this subject matter actually in terms of culture. I think we're all learning actually, in terms of, as you said, micro things start to become much more embedded in processes and ways of working. So, I think the museum galleries, did have a role to tell and just in terms of examining their own collections and the inherent biases that would already be in those collections, and using tools to even uncover those, rather than it kind of being the other way around. We were lucky enough to participate in the museum's AI network a year or so ago which is organized by Goldsmiths and Pratt Institute in America in this exchange between UK and US institutions.

And that was a really enlightening exercise because this is still new to many people including myself and many other colleagues. And I think what was great about that kind of collaboration network was again bringing it back to skillsets, and kind of teaching new methods need new levels of teaching, and the toolkit that came out of that project was kind of a what questions do people have to ask when thinking about use of this type of machine learning or AI. And to understand those biases that might be put into the machine as it starts to work.

So I think it's very, very new and it's very, very... We're sort of using it on many levels, but we do have to ask ourselves those questions. I do think museums and galleries have a strong role to play in them. Great, thank you so much. I've got two more questions before we end, (chuckles) and basically, they spammed audiences and collections. So how will things be different in terms of how audiences think about museum collections in their own lives.

Given the advances that you've been talking about and then kind of, how will we think about collecting differently in the future. So, Michael, do you wanna take that question first, about how audiences think about museums differently in the future and then how will we think about collecting differently? Well, I think one of the things that audiences will perhaps take on board and indeed maybe even expect is this notion of a personalized experience. So as soon as you make some kind of digital or virtual augmentation to something, that inherently should be personalized. If it's not as a technology designer, creative use of technology you've kind of failed. So yes having that is kind of those personal aspects, which are nice because if you look at the way technology gets used really kind of across the board in society, it is all about the personal, the ephemeral, that kind of real-time experience. So I think audiences will strive and indeed seek those things out, and combine those again with the things that they like from the traditional, physical, collective space experience, it's gonna be that.

In terms of collecting, I mean that's another really kind of challenging area. I think museums and institutions will have to sort of spend a lot of time developing those resources. So if you think about issues of digital preservation, again that's a completely different skillset.

If you think about sort of collecting from the analog age. We have a long history of knowing how to do that, but if you're looking at things that are augmented or born digital, those particular aspects which are some of the most important, I would say, the most important things being generated at this moment in time, how do we actually keep those, how do we preserve those? Don't even get into this idea of collecting. You have to be able to preserve it first.

So with that in mind, I almost kind of to think back to what Sarah presented, this idea of recording and maybe taking keys from looking at how do you preserve live performance, live people. Of course, if I'm gonna have an experience of talking to a Holocaust survivor, I would rather talk to the Holocaust survivor. But of course at some point that becomes impossible. So, say Sarah's project of actually building this experience that's authentic, that allows you to tap into that, it gives you something. So I think we have to, in terms of collecting and preservation, we have to think along those lines, that we aren't gonna always be able to, you know, like in real life, record, capture you can't have that absolute sort of concrete thing. Whatever that is, it's gonna have to be some derivative of that.

I think we have to be willing to accept that, and find ways to then kind of move forward with models of collection and preservation, knowing that. Thank you. Lawrence, what are your thoughts on that? I think Michael summed it up beautifully (chuckles).

Maybe, I'm the the first one in terms of collecting differently, I think yes that the whole area kind of born digital content and drawing those connections between things is kind of more of the thing, maybe it's not about collecting differently, it's connecting differently. Maybe there's something in terms of how we have to think about how museums and galleries are particularly good at joining those connections as that there are many projects, that are on the go at the moment, which are really really trying to strive to get to that better place, where we are able to join connections between different types of collections in different institutions. And I think that really is where some powerful stories might start to happen. I think that's where it's quite exciting.

In terms of audience engaging differently, COVID it's taught two new words; it's pivoting and blended, and I think we (chuckles) we've moved out of pivoting at the moment and we're starting to move into the blended world, where everything is that thing of engagement will become very different. Coming into a museum, it may not be that you're... I mean you can't do this now but you coming into the gallery you may be picking up information from various sources but I think that's the blended model of how you experienced the physical and digital becoming (indistinct) moreso And it's an area museum guys have really struggled to get to in terms of thinking about the pre, during and the post visit, and I think that would get a bit tighter. I think and people who are having a chance of a more personalized experience when they come to the venue. Great, fantastic, and Sarah, would you like the final word? Wow, I'm sort of agreeing with Chiles, yes, championing and channeling Lawrence and Michael's comments there as well. So, a couple of things I just thought about adding, with regards to that around audiences engaging differently and this blended experience, I hope that organizations will sort of move towards increased thinking about partnerships, collaborations, broadcast, connections.

Those sorts of things, and increasingly see themselves as both this physical location but also being much more confident about taking their own collections out. Not necessarily physically but virtually, in a more imaginative way to create this blended experience. So going back to Michael's point about how important physical experiences are, and that we'll all be rushing to them, when things open up. But also for people that live miles and miles away, the thought of getting on a coach or train for five hours is gonna become even less kind of enticing to a certain extent. So being able to create things which are really engaging where they are, rather than just a sort of add on it, really exciting.

I think there's an enormous of amount of potential there. And on the collecting an artifacts issue, yes, I have written down in big letters, preservation and data storage (laughs) and I think it will metadata and provenance of digital assets, and how you can prove authenticity for example, is going to be really important too. Thank you, I wanna thank the entire panel for a really stimulating discussion. I think what's clear is that the kind of future of museums is one in which you will be able to traverse time from the past to the kind of future. And while you'll be able to attract diverse space you'll be able to be in different places, and that is really, really exciting.

In addition to that, I think audiences will have the time, have the ability to interact in unprecedented ways that will allow them to be a real player in what is being kinda produced in real time. And I think for museums, it sounds like from what you all have said is the challenge is not to prioritize the physical over the digital, the digital over the physical but it's about how you integrate those two in thinking about your audience and in service of your audience. And so that's what's really, really important in this. And we will have to keep our eyes on the ethical issues and make sure that we have that transparency. And me coming from a museums background, museums are really, really good at being very careful in their consideration of what they present and how they present it.

And I think that will be an ongoing challenge going forward. I think in terms of, you know, just thinking about what we need to kinda take away all of this. I mean, it just feels very much like the time for museums and people who have collections, it's gonna be vibrant, it's gonna be such a vibrant and great time. And it's just about having the people who have the skills, expertise and being, I think being open to experimentation, that's what I've gathered from all of you is creating environments that are open to experimentation and trusting that experimentation and prototyping to kind of chart the path forward. So thank you all for your fantastic contributions, and I hope the audience has enjoyed this session. Thank you.

2021-05-22 19:55

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