Approaches to Managing Emerging Technologies in Museums

Proposed is a plenary panel session to discuss emerging technologies today and in the future. The session will cover a number of key themes including 1) technology has always been emerging and will always be emerging. What is the framework for incorporating it in your Museum? 2) Current emerging technology examples - artificial intelligence, Mixed reality, Internet of Things, Quantum Computing 3) the costs and downfalls of adopting technology too soon or too narrowly. 4) Framework for experimenting with emerging technology early in it's lifecycle and including in future plans and strategies


Unknown Speaker 00:00
Well, good morning, everybody. Thank you for coming. I promise you, this is not an advertisement. This is just a regular session. So I want to introduce two of my colleagues who are going to join me today we're going to have a conversation around emerging technology and how to think about it, how to manage it, what are the risks, what are the benefits. And to that I brought two esteemed colleagues of mine. If I haven't invited you doesn't mean I don't think you were steamed. But I really respect or respect everyone's opinion in the room. But I really respect Carolyn's experience and David. So David Nunez from MIT Museum, I'm sure you will know him and his new new on the board. Carolyn Royston, chief experience officer at Cooper Hewitt. We were going to have Jane Alexander. And unfortunately, she had an event last night. And she's I think she's on route from Cleveland now, but she's not yet here to my knowledge. And so it's gonna be the three of us and we decided we're going to stand up because we were going to sit down and have a very casual chat. But I think I'm a bit worried that people won't actually be able to see us.

Unknown Speaker 01:07
And this way, this way we can break into song, when it's time to for that part, we can do a salsa,

Unknown Speaker 01:11
when that's when a wedding.

Unknown Speaker 01:12
So the reason I wanted to have this conversation, for those of you who know me, just for those of you who don't know me, I spent seven years at the Museum of Natural History in New York. METAR worked for me, Ariana French worked for me. I've worked with a bunch of you, across all of the museum conferences, I now have crossed to the other side. And I now work for Microsoft, which I think surprised me and a lot of other people. And that my goal at Microsoft, I'm responsible for libraries and museums, globally. And the role is like, what are the needs of museums? I'm going to skip the libraries for right now. What are the needs of museums globally, with respect to technology, I have a long tech career, a foray into museums about seven years ago. So I don't have as much experience as many of you. But I think seven years is a good evening and in digital to give me a feel for what the issues are. And of course, I've been on the conference circuit with all of you for a number of years now. So with that, I'd love to start a conversation around emerging technology. And I'll tell you my theory. My theory is that the phone is running is running at the front. My theory. My theory is we're very creative, very creative institutions. And with that, we tend to gravitate, rightfully so to whatever is the latest, greatest technology. And I think there's two potential challenges with that. One is that we're going to talk about which is new technologies, very new technologies are both immature, and expensive. Immature means you're not really getting a great experience. And I'll tell you why. And expensive. We all know the answer to that question. We all have limited resources, how do we make the best use of the resources available to us? And I think that's one challenge. I think the other challenge is technology is not just visible technology. It doesn't just have to be the technology that you can see in the gallery, I feel strongly and I will not bore you with this with technology has to permeate every level of the organization. It's about driving efficiencies in the organization. It's about driving reach and mission. And it's about doing all of these things, not just what we do in the creative aspects of gallery experiences. So with that, let me stop talking and start to involve Carolyn and David who are looking awkward here. I want to I wanted to start with like when you when you are thinking about technology for your museums, how do you think about it in terms of like, if you're going to evaluate, let's just say, my favorite topic, which I know I will be challenged on? I'm not a big fan of virtual reality. Microsoft is not a big fan of virtual reality. Let me tell you why Microsoft thinks that it's a manufacturing experience at the moment, they don't feel that it's a consumer experience. There it is not yet there. But when you're looking at a new technology that's either being asked by a funder, your executive cetera, how do you best advise them? In thinking about this? Let's just say AI, VR, those kinds of things.

Unknown Speaker 04:35
Yeah, I think I think generally, museums and don't ask why enough? Like, why are we investing in this technology? Why are we spending the time and resources on these? And we might be asking that question in this room, because we're sort of clued into that. But we aren't having that conversation, I think, where we say things like, you know, maybe augmented reality in 2019 is not the best use of our time because we haven't defined why we are Putting them in space. We haven't delivered the right use cases. And I think that's the people in this room who are digitally savvy who are experiencing this, they stopped by making things. Were the brotherly the right the right people to be doing that. So when I when when this happens all the time, right, somebody knocks on my door. Hey, David, I just went to, you know, a museum in Europe and saw a beautiful augmented reality experience in the gallery. And I, you know, we should do something like this, we should do something with augmented reality. Why? Why do we need to do that with our bed reality? Well, maybe because our visitors are expecting this, or they don't ask us these questions in that those sorts of ways. I would contend that actually, this conversation hasn't would never has never happened in the history of the universe. What are we going to do this weekend? Let's go to the MIT Museum. Okay, I'll go check out the website. Oh, there's not an augmented reality up for that website for the museum? How am I going to find the objects in the space? Ask somebody? How am I going to learn more about that object, when I put my phone at its Google or Bing, that's fine. So I say this, I'm not trying to be bad. I'm not trying to be be disrespectful to the amazing colleagues in this room, who are currently working on these things. In fact, I will flip this and say, it is incumbent on all of us to be working on augmented reality apps in November of 2019. We are living in a world of abundance of information. Right now, we could all of us pull out our phone, which is a by the way, an amazing miracle in its own, that all of us could pull out a phone right now, do a Google search, tutorial, augmented reality app. And within a couple hours, just by following the steps, you will already learn more by engaging in a year long process and multi $100,000 project, we can do that. It's likely that the people that are coming to this conference, rather than being out there by the pool, it's likely that you are one of the most digitally savvy person, people at your museum. And so the only way that you can represent what this conversation is to other folks at your museums, is by making things and making things together, sharing them, talking about them coming to this conference, doing panels, making things get your hands dirty. That's what I would do for my director who is not who would not consider himself a digitally savvy person is I would pull into my desk. Here is an augmented reality app, the either I made right download, or what have you all made? What do you think about it? Really?

Unknown Speaker 07:45
Yeah. What do you think, Carolyn?

Unknown Speaker 07:47
What do I think? I mean, I totally agree with with you, David, in terms of, you know, demonstrating a use case for this. So you know, where is where is that question being asked? And, and I also think, you know, for, for me, a bit like you, Catherine, the, the necessity of having a really solid foundation and infrastructure and investment in those areas, is absolutely key to anything else that's going to bring success down the line, but also understanding about the operational and financial sustainability questions around doing any of these things. Now, I'm quite fortunate that I work in a design museum. And we want to encourage prototyping, we want to talk about the process of design, we want to talk about the challenges. And so our approach to emerging technologies is to is to kind of think about it as an r&d space as something separate, perhaps outside of our core offer. And then think about how we bring that into an embedded across the museum if we see that there's a use case, if we see that it's successful, and that visitors are enjoying it. And also, if we can see that it's operationally sustainable.

Unknown Speaker 09:01
Yeah, yeah. I think this sustainable technology is something that, you know, that I'm very passionate about, and I've been talking a lot about this year, is this idea of like, any technology, when you look at it in a two year period, if you're creating it, particularly when we're dealing with emerging technologies, that two year period is fine. And it's great for the launch and everything, but it's almost guaranteed to die. And the reason it's guaranteed to die is because I don't hate to be so negative after Matt's lovely comments about Tanya, I felt like I needed to become more positive person. But But anyway, the reason it goes to die is because we're not treating it as a sustainable platform in the same way that we treat any other way of running the museum. There's no way that we would build a building and then never maintain it. Well, maybe we would, but generally speaking, we would never not maintain it right. The same with your car. And the question is, why is it that sometimes we don't treat technology the same way? And we treat it as a project. I don't know if you guys have views on that

Unknown Speaker 10:03
I've started, including a key performance indicator and the projects that we're doing. Basically, how many core nuggets of the digital projects we're doing will survive until the next one. And it's, it's, it's love, it's a little bit about like, like just acquiescing to the fact that the things that we're building are ephemeral they will they, the things that we build will disappear, they'll then not be maintained. That's, that's just that's how it is. So if that's the case, shouldn't be that way. Sorry to interrupt. No, I think if that is the case, then can we identify the core nuggets of those things that we can pull out over? What is the survivability of, of the corn nuggets, and those are infrastructure pieces, and I'm leaning in right now very heavily as we are getting this opportunity to rebuild our museum and to brand new location to think heavily about what core pieces do we need right now that are going to support all the amazing things that are coming down the pike? They're not they're boring, or director doesn't care about those things. But but they're important.

Unknown Speaker 10:57
Yeah, yeah, no, I agree. Totally. And I think in so many cases, we're not really talking about technology. Here. We're talking about organizational change and organizational understanding. And that the, you know, the responsibility for these things isn't down to one person. It's actually a whole museum is part of a whole museum experience. And so, so I, you know, my feeling is always to try to think, you know, how do we embed this? How do we really integrate this into into people's work in a way that's meaningful? And how do we also look at how we evaluate it? So what are the questions? What is the criteria for success for this, and then to be evaluating and to be user testing, and to be really measuring against those things? Before we make a big commitment into something that, you know, maybe ultimately, very disappointing? Yep.

Unknown Speaker 11:45
So one of the one of the reasons why I discourage emerging when I'm very new technology, and when I say very new technology, I mean, virtual reality, augmented reality has actually become a little bit more sophisticated. But even so let's just go back three years, augmented reality three years ago, when I was in New York, we actually, you know, as part of our project had to invent augmented reality before it was actually available. And you know, and I knew that the time would come. And that was because of the fund, funding grant and certain expectations that came with that. But I was thinking we should not be in the business of inventing technology, right? There are, you know, something that Tony was talking about this morning, notwithstanding the fact that I do work for a tech partner these days. But even when I wasn't this idea of like, the tech, the big tech companies should be inventing this technology, or it already exists in another industry, how can we leverage it, but I look at something like virtual reality. And you know, I made these comments a few years ago, the virtual reality experience, is pixelated. It's getting better every year. But it's pixelated. And the reason why there is something that is on your head, which is becoming increasingly lighter, but started off being a very, very awkward experience, is because you need a lot of compute power in that device, right. But compute power, you know, with Moore's law gets better and better over time. And you know, what, I think we'll find over time, we're going to get higher resolution, multisensory collaborative are already starting to see that. And then that's a good time when that technology mature, that's a good time. And it's also significantly cheaper. So when we're actually in organizations where we have limited resources, you know, I wonder why we spend so much money on those kinds of things, and not on maybe on some maybe a more balanced approach on foundational.

Unknown Speaker 13:39
So I mean, I think the other part of this as well, as we haven't figured out the visitor experience around this exactly, no, it's it's, you know, going back to this idea of is it operationally sustainable? I mean, right now, it's a very singular isolated experience, which doesn't work well in a museum unless you actually construct an experience to support that. So I think that's the other part of it, and which is why again, we can't separate the technology from the experience.

Unknown Speaker 14:06
I would say, again, that I do think it is critically important, even though it were three years out from VR, and AR at least, I think, still think it is critically important. And I would support them and fight to the death to support people that are working on projects here. Now on these things, I think the only caveat is they have to be really scoped down on projects. They have to be experiments they have to be like, because that's the only way that we're going to learn when this stuff does come down the pipe. This is what it can do. And this is why we want it this Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 14:35
And share I mean, disseminate in those experiments so that we can all learn as a sector.

Unknown Speaker 14:39
Yes. I'm totally prepared to be challenged since I've been working at Microsoft 10 months and there's two things that you will there's a lot of things you want to mix up but two things every day, what is the impact that you're making that an impact does not mean? Equal dollars, they're equal? What is the impact you're making on the industry, everything is assessed that so that's the filter of everything but the other one is in You may have heard this growth mindset, which I must say, I sort of struggled with a beginning just because it made me cringe as a term, not the concept. But growth mindset is this idea of, of always being open to being challenged, always open, you know, so, you know, you don't have to agree with me. I think my view is, it's not that it's an all or nothing, so much as it can't be all on this end, which is that creative and not on some of that foundational, because I also am very concerned, when I look at whole digital transformation opportunity in museums of, you know, we were living on a house of cards, as we saw earlier, but that was a term that, you know, is also used elsewhere. We're living on a house of cards in terms of that foundation, when it comes to the data that we have the integrity of that data, the scalability of our systems. And, and the other thing that I've learned with this coming to Microsoft is just how big that gap is, between museums and other industries. And why is that it feels like this is, you know, the sort of, at least from my perspective, you know, it feels like this is actually a more important industry, this is all about social good. This is all about protecting memory, and making sure that we learn from past mistakes, and all of this kind of thing. And so I feel like we shouldn't be sort of second, in terms of the technology that's available to us.

Unknown Speaker 16:19
I feel like the real world has solved a lot of the problems that we are running into today, 1020 years ago, so why are we just not learning from those things and using those things? There's, and I think we should be doing that sort of outsourcing, I would say also, what this field, I think, and I'm also I'm fairly new to this field, to be completely frank. But I do feel that this field for a while has been dominated by monolithic vendors, who do try to do everything. And now we're in 2019, what we're thinking we're, the rest of the world is living on ecosystems, they're finding the best of breed that do particular things and making sure that those things talk to each other. So when a vendor comes to my door now, like, first question is, what are your API's? What are the what? How do you get the data in and out of that thing? Am I locked into you forever? If so, I'm kicking you to the curb? Because that's not not sustainable. It's not it? That's a huge risk.

Unknown Speaker 17:15
Carolyn? Yeah, no, I completely agree with with, with everything that you've just said. And, you know, really what we're trying to do, it could be here it is really develop a roadmap that is an ecosystem, and where we can see the power, the pieces of the puzzle fit together. And also, I think this is very important for us is to be able to do all of this at a pace and a scale that we can manage. Well, you know, with knowing what our capabilities are, knowing what our capacity is, and trying to manage the expectations with our management team, around and the rest of the museum around what we can actually do. So the roadmap is, you know, five years, we might change it, we might evolve it, but but it's not something that's going to happen in the next six months.

Unknown Speaker 17:57
Yeah, I'm starstruck I am at the moment, be surrounded by the two of you. Amazing. Thank you. Sorry. I'm starstruck by the two of you. So thank you for having me.

Unknown Speaker 18:09
That's hilarious.

Unknown Speaker 18:10
I'm now very, very embarrassed.

Unknown Speaker 18:13
No, I just I really admire, I think, like the people in this room, like, especially as I scan the room, and I see people that have been doing this for a long while. These sorts of frameworks, roadmaps, they, they exist, we've been talking about this for a long while, I do think your point about sharing them out and, and being open and comparing them against each other. Because I be honest, I think what might work for your museum might not work for a museum of my size, or the woods, single person museum that's out here. So figuring out how those things fit together and how how that ecosystem can be the ecosystem of ecosystems, what the commonalities are among those that, you know, we then you find that one vendor that can serve that particular function. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 18:49
Do you think that there is a challenge in the return on investment conversation in these organizations? You know, do we tend to we tend sometimes to look at the technology and not whether it's going to return? What we're going to spend on it.

Unknown Speaker 19:02
It's an ongoing battle.

Unknown Speaker 19:06
Why do you think that is? Well, I

Unknown Speaker 19:08
worked in a war museum. So I, I think about everything is hand to hand combat. But it's, it's because it's, you know, that it's, it's not it's often not tangible, it's unseen. It's very difficult to argue, and when you go back every year and say, Well, I don't just need the same thing you gave me last year, I need more because we want to do this and this and you get this kind of blank face back at you or just No, you know, it's it's, it's advocating. So again, I mean, it's, you know, that it's, you have to be strategic, you have to demonstrate why it's important. You have to find along the way some quick wins as well. You can't constantly be in a state of it's coming. It's coming and nothing appears. But it's it it and often you have to advocate up and you also have To advocate down it is the challenge of being a museum technologist. Yeah. You know, and if you're lucky, you have someone at the top table that can help you. But invariably, you don't. And so, you know, it's it's very difficult. David.

Unknown Speaker 20:14
Yeah. I mean, I think I'm just thinking about sort of magnesium and kind of the priorities of what what the leadership? Generally our board generally what, where they place their values around technology. And often, unfortunately, it is the flashy stuff, right? Because you know, we're doing fundraising, would you like, yeah, and I think that's okay. Like, I actually think that if it's long as we own, that, that's what we're doing, then you can optimize for those particular goals in a different way. So if we need to make a flashy VR experience, then we'll do that if that's going to, you know, turn into the ROI of getting a funder interested in us for a bigger thing. Like that's, that's those are the kinds of like, conversations we're having, at least right now.

Unknown Speaker 20:50
The challenge also is, you know, not not to be, you know, just because there is a pot of money not to be diverted, from, you know, still sticking to your roadmap and sticking to the things that are important. So trying to find a balance that tension, I think, between, as you say, you know, being able to demonstrate some of the great things that are out there, but also continuing to invest in what's important.

Unknown Speaker 21:13
Yeah. If I was to say to the room, we did some research. I'm not saying it's scientific. But we did some research, we took the top 25 museums in the world by visitation. That's an arbitrary measure. And we looked at the apps that they had that still were around. Some of you have heard this from me before. And we calculated two things. One, what is the commonality of features. And the other one was, how much money was totally tied up in that. And so we found two things, 80% of the features are the same, they don't look, the same presentation layer is not the same. But if the features 80% of the features are identical. We all do very similar things. 25 to $50 million, was the total sum of grants to fund those apps. And most of them now is we know there's an ongoing conversation about the role of apps in museums and stainability. But I think when we think about some of these, and the reason I say that is apps is not an emerging technology today, it was five years ago, when we were all building them, it was you can now build an app probably overnight, with very little money. And the only money that you actually probably need is all around design agency work. Right? Because obviously, we want that great experience. And look, my point is, there is a cost to getting into technology too early. I'm not suggesting that we don't do it at all, I'm just saying that we go in thoughtfully and understand what that what that is. And I think that that, you know, when you look at it across an industry, you wonder, two things. Is there an opportunity for collaboration? And is there is that the best use of that as of that $50 million. So if you just to finish up, and then we'll check to check two questions from the room. If you want to place your bets on the best of all the emerging technologies, mixed reality, AI, virtual reality, etc. Where would you place your bets? Now? Is the the best to be experimenting with. Sorry to put you on the spot? All of all of them, all of them. Okay.

Unknown Speaker 23:32
All of them. And also, still people?

Unknown Speaker 23:35
Of course, yes.

Unknown Speaker 23:38
If people like, like, picks up thing I would say like natural language processing AI kinds of things. I think there's a lot of texts that we've got. We've got collections that we can manage and deal with differently. And I think there's a lot of opportunity there. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 23:49
I mean, as well, for us, I think just as a design museum, try really trying to try to using users technology to surface some of the hidden design stories I understand help augment. Understanding. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 24:03
I yeah, my opinion. And for what it's worth is it's about using artificial intelligence to actually knowledge mine. So knowledge mine are collections knowledge, mining data around customers, I feel like that's a relatively mature and scalable kind of model. Relatively speaking, not relative to some other technologies. But I think, you know, that's, that's my two cents worth, but I'm sure we all have different opinions. So with that, let's wrap up and just, you know, take some five minutes of questions from the room, interested in people's opinions. Feel free to challenge me growth mindset. I hear that like 10 times a day.

Unknown Speaker 24:46
Hi. Yep. All right. Thank you great discussion. My name is Mark. I'm from the low art museum at the University of Miami. Thinking about technology, and we've been talking a lot about AR here and other sessions. And I think a lot about the translation technologies that are existing now, which in some way or another or service as a form of AR. And so working in museums thinking about access accessibility inclusion, I've been really curious about leveraging these technologies to enhance our ability for live guided tours, general texts throughout the galleries, etc. I'm just wondering if if any of you have seen or experienced the use of these technologies being leveraged in that way, I feel surprised that they're not being that I'm not this is not a criticism, but to my aware, to what I'm aware of that Microsoft isn't working directly with a particular museum or a library in this capacity. And it just seems like there's a, there's a gap there, and an exciting place to fill. Well, all

Unknown Speaker 25:51
the big tech companies have translation technology, but I'm going to talk about mine. But I'm not suggesting that we're the only one. So Microsoft has some great Czech translation technology, I think, I think raises a really interesting point. There is a view that unless it is perfect, we should not do it. And I you know, I think there was lots of chat, you know, trends, it behooves us not human, it's not going to be perfect. Actually, we would even challenge that if you had communications between two humans, would you actually necessarily translate perfectly even English to English, right, about what the person said, or whether you understood it. And so I think this idea of it has to be perfect, because the cost of getting it perfect. Doing it manually is significant, both in terms of time and dollars, versus the cost of something that is 90%. Correct, or 95%. I'm not saying actual numbers, but it's in that kind of range. And depending on the language. And so I think we often just like we can't present a less than perfect experience. But we're also there's a trade off there between accessibility for our visitors versus perfect. And I don't know the answer to that question. I think it would be a great discussion at some, some point in a conference, but I think the technology is there today, and very accessible and free. So it's not like you know, there's a cost attached to it.

Unknown Speaker 27:18
Yes. And I would also say that you could probably go right now and do a Google search for translation technology, and you find a tutorial. And being sorry, yes. Whatever your preferred. So I use Google. And by the way, thank you for calling that out that that's probably your that's the counter counter argument for why AR is really appropriate right now. These kinds of when they bring you new affordances, to, to experiences in the galleries, that's, of course, a really good reason. I mean, it's still not sure that AR itself, because you're holding on to this, this thing is rarely the right accessible thing. But still, I mean, I think like experimenting in that space is really, really great.

Unknown Speaker 27:54
Any other questions? Yep. Matt, of course. I thought I got rid of you, like your

Matt Tarr 28:06
natural history and, and, and MCN board of directors as a gentleman. And President is not just a member, I am the president of the HAIR CLUB. So anyways, my question is, or maybe maybe it's sort of a provocative statement about where we should be experimenting. And I think, as you know, Catherine, we have really been talking about the entirety of the visitor journey. And so I find myself thinking most often, honestly, right now about this notion of voice of customer and collecting the visitors experience data, and how do we do that? You know what I mean? So I think to your point is like it, I want it to be invisible. We used to talk for years about no more screens, but like, we like I get the NPS, you know, I get about 60 or 70 of them a day of just like visitors literally telling us the problems, you know what I mean? And like there's no replacement for that. And so I want to feed that into some AI and have it be, you know, charted and graphed and be useful, and making these statements to leadership, who, I mean, once you start to see this stuff, you can't unsee it, you know what I mean? So I think that that is a piece, it's not emerging at all. It's just the stuff that like 20 years ago, right? When do you started putting a survey thing on the bottom of their thing, and we can't figure out how to do the same. So I think there's there's plenty for us to do in that regard. So I don't know if there's anything

Unknown Speaker 29:27
emerging? Well, I agree. And I think it's it's it's part of this, you know, idea of where do we, you know, when I realized that we have funders, and I realized that that drives a certain type of investment. But when we look holistically is like, where should we be spending our time and it may not necessarily be at least my opinion, it may not necessarily be in all of those emerging technologies, and particularly early on when they're immature and very, very expensive. I think I became, I'm not suggesting anyone in this room is doing but I think I became aware of this amazing VR experience that everyone's talking about. But the price tag was 12 million. It was like how can we I'm not suggesting we don't do that, but also how can you justify that? That's my opinion. Okay, any more questions? I think we're over time. Actually, I think we're right on 30 minutes. And I'm sure you all want lunch. Anyone else before we thank you very much.