How AI can help museums fulfill their purpose

The social responsibilities of museums


With ChatGPT-4 on everyone's lips, there is no longer any doubt that AI will change our lives forever. I am itching to jump into the debate about whether it will result in the doom of civilization or the salvation of humanity. But for now, let's focus on the impact of AI on museums - and on just one but yet most important aspect because I'm convinced: AI could become the key to fulfilling the purpose of museums.

After years of debate, in 2022 ICOM have expanded the traditional role of a museum which was seen as an institution that “collects, researches, conserves, exhibits and interprets tangible and intangible heritage”. In addition, museums are now supposed to be “accessible and inclusive”, they are tasked to “foster diversity and sustainability…to operate and communicate… with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing.”

In short, museums have a social responsibility. They are there to provide a safe place, where diverse people can meet, learn, and develop empathy. Because it’s only when I can understand the previously unfamiliar and discover similarities between myself and the other, that I can connect and feel empathy. And empathy is considered the driving human ability to become a social being capable of interacting with others.

So, where does AI come into this discussion?

Have you noticed that in the self-definition of museums, there is not a single mention of the “human made, original art work”? If a museum is all about its social impact, AI can easily replace art and even create new art works that fulfill this role much better.

With its interactive possibilities, AI could “scan” museum visitors in the beginning and invite them to personalize their museum experience by sharing personal data such as favorite color, current mood, most burning questions, main interests, beliefs and expectations etc. Based on this data, AI can generate tailor-made content through to full exhibitions that slowly shifts the individual visitor’s perception from the known and preferred to the unknown and alien transitioning their understanding along the way and enabling them to put themselves in the shoes of others. And being able to feel empathy is – as we have learned – what makes a social being.

In this way, AI has the power to create more humanity than human-made art ever could.

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