Artificial intelligence in the context of cultural heritage and museums: Complex challenges and new opportunities

Briefing 28-04-2023

As digital technologies have been increasingly permeating our lives, artificial intelligence (AI) has gradually made it onto the scene too, but without much fanfare. This once daunting prospect has become a part of our lives even in domains that do not seem to belong to a futurist world, such as cultural heritage and museums. The results are both promising and surprising: reconstructing a piece of art, completing an unfinished composition of a great musician, identifying the author of an ancient text, or providing architectural details for a potential reconstruction of the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral would have seemed like science fiction just a few years ago. Applying AI in the public cultural domain requires investment in many areas, the most obvious being infrastructure, equipment and highly qualified human resources. Human resources are essential, as AI needs to be fed with high-quality data to be trained to perform its tasks. Data needs to be interoperable and properly described with metadata. Moreover, copyright issues must be resolved before such data is used, and cultural heritage professionals need to learn how to navigate this complex terrain skilfully. The EU has a rich cultural heritage, and its numerous top museums and works of art are a precious resource for its cultural and creative industry. Yet, it depends on the United States for its online cultural platforms and on Asia for its equipment. Presently, it is making efforts to change all this and to preserve its cultural and creative resources in digital form in order to amass the data needed to put AI at the service of its cultural heritage and museums. AI can also be beneficial for archaeological and historic research, helping deepen knowledge and localise sites. To foster these developments, the EU has issued recommendations setting targets for the 3D digitisation of the Member States' cultural heritage sites and monuments, but also for relevant capacity building and training.