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Could artificial intelligence curate an exhibition?

In Museums on March 16, 2016 at 7:20 pm

The computers are rising up and stealing our jobs.

They can drive our cars.

They can beat humans at Go (reputedly the most complicated board game in the world).

Computers control the light and water on our vegetables as they grow; they pick our orders from warehouses and they know when to send us special offers or reminders to go back to the gym.

With the roles of the driver, the game player, the farmer and the personal trainer all under threat from the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), I was wondering what other jobs and roles computers might replace in the future.

Museum staff already rely on computers in many ways. We use them to store information about objects in collection databases; to monitor environmental conditions; to design exhibitions and of course to communicate with the wider world.

But could a computer do the job of a curator? Could a computer with AI put an exhibition together?

So much of the exhibition-making process is digitised. A computer could quite easily scan a database of objects or artworks and pick out a selection to put on display. Whether it chose them at random, or if it looked for something specific would be up for debate.

In a world, probably not too far away, AI could look at the facebook profiles of everyone who follows a specific museum and identify a trend in their activity – then look back at the collection and find some objects that are related to that trend. A computer could filter the objects to make sure they are all available for display or all in a certain format. It could probably make a suggestion as to how the items might be ordered in an object list and then, with the information in the database, come up with a piece of text about each one.

(Of course, the data in database is only ever going to be as good as that which has been entered by a person, but indulge my whimsy for a moment here.)

Space-planning software is quite widely used nowadays, so a computer could use AI could easily arrange the objects on a plan of the exhibition gallery so that people could actually see them.

Whether AI could choose an appropriate colour for the walls, generate a marketing campaign, put together a public programme of events or select which canapes to serve on the opening night are all still debatable.

But surely some aspect of the curatorial process – the part that many might argue is the most important – could potentially be handed over to the AI overlords, when they rule the planet. Humans will simply need to turn up to put the pictures on the walls and open the champagne.

This is of course fanciful thinking for the moment, but I wonder if anyone is ready to run a simulation of this yet? And are they brave enough to let a computer with AI free on their collection?

The results would be really interesting to see … or they could be terrifying. What if AI comes up with better ideas for exhibitions that we do?!

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