Is AI a Job Killer in Art Museums?

As was predicted at the turn of the century, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has caused disruptions in many careers. According to a report by global consultancy McKinsey & Company, by the year 2030 automation and AI could force around 33 percent of the US’s projected 166 million workforces to change jobs. AI applications are becoming increasingly common in life, the public sector, and museums. AI’s will influence the future job marketplace for museums professionals, although perhaps not as one may expect.

AI has the potential to create an impact on almost every current job in art museums, while some jobs will likely be reduced in necessity or eliminated by AI future, other roles will find their effectiveness significantly enhanced. The jobs which are at greater risk replacement by automation and computerization are those that require simple or sequential tasks. For example ticket sales, a service many museums already offer online, may be conducted on site by AI in the art museum because ticketing is a predictable routine activities. Thus, placing self-service ticket machines instead of the human labor force in the museum place will likely become another way to enhance the ticket-sales efficiency by lowering labor costs. As AI and machine learning systems become more sophisticated they may be able to engage in personalized question and answer informative exchanges with guests at the point of sale, somewhat akin to an enhanced chatot. While some guests may enjoy this type of interaction, others may find it less appealing and, depending on the needs and audience of an institution, AI may be unable to meet the conversational needs of patrons.

Although positions based on the completion of routine tasks may be in peril, AI powered systems are not designed to eliminate every job that they can, but to create a systematic working environment to improve the quality and consistency work. Most jobs, such as curators, fundraisers, event planners and graphic designers, at least right now, will likely not be eliminated by AI. These jobs require highly trained professionals and involve the completion of multiple complex tasks. While some of the tasks could be augmented or automated by the technology, the majority depend on humans’ knowledge, cognitive and emotional intelligence, and communication skills, which AI is not able to solve at the current stage. Therefore, most museum staff do not need to be concerned about unemployment in the AI age, but instead could regard AI as a powerful teammate to support them to deal with the tasks faster and better.

“ Museums and AI: Could Robots Be Your New Coworkers?”  American Alliance of Museums.

Museums and AI: Could Robots Be Your New Coworkers?” American Alliance of Museums.

AI as Work Compliments

Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation art gallery uses AI and machine learning technology in the collection department to auto-pair digital works, interpret the artistic styles, and recognize the patterns and objects. The technology categorizes each art piece automatically, an automation which assists the collections staff’s ability to place millions of objects in the collection, and enhances the museum collection database. With the ability to do much of the ground work, AI will also work as a search filter to aid curators in selecting related works from the museum database. Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Office have collaborated with NVIDIA on a project using AI to digitize the botany specimens, which will likely to assist curators to learn from the mass collection data and allow them spend much time on more sophisticated curatorial works with the extracted information by AI.

Daugherty, H. James WilsonPaul R. "How Humans and AI Are Working Together in 1,500 Companies."  Harvard Business Review . July 24, 2018. Accessed April 02, 2019.

Daugherty, H. James WilsonPaul R. "How Humans and AI Are Working Together in 1,500 Companies." Harvard Business Review. July 24, 2018. Accessed April 02, 2019.

Some fear that AI powered robots or chatbots will displace traditional tour guides. Museums are indeed experimenting with AI docents to assist human docents and curators by delivering digital tour guides in the art museums. For example, Smithsonian Institute deployed eight robots, Pepper, in three art museums in Washington D.C., encouraging visitors to focus on the exhibits and interact with the artworks as well as other visitors. The Dot Kiosk, a chatbot tour guide at the Akron Art Museum provides the visitors with a new visitor experience and connects them with art and technology. While engaging more visitors and taking the responsibility of some simple tasks, these robots also collect data from the daily operation, which could help the future exhibition planning and visitor experience design. These AI docents are exciting, yet the emergence of the digital tour guides is unlikely to fully replace docents and curators in the art museums, since currently AI cannot replicate the human ingenuity and deliver the heart-to-heart talks with the visitors.

Justin T. Gellerson, “Artificial Intelligence Like a Robot, Enhances Museum Experience.”  The New York Times .

Justin T. Gellerson, “Artificial Intelligence Like a Robot, Enhances Museum Experience.” The New York Times.

Redefining and Reframing the Current Work at the Art Museum

While some routine aspects of museum work may become automated, AI’s overall impact in museums may be positive, and its potential is unprecedented. Arts professionals should keep an eye AI’s rapidly evolving capibilities, and consider how to integrate AI into their daily work in order to assist them in accomplishing their tasks, and conveying the museum’s mission to the community.




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