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How AI is helping to preserve culture in London

The city’s cultural treasures may be fragile, but don’t fret – this seriously smart tech means they’ll be around for your great-great-grandkids to enjoy too

Written by Time Out. Paid for by Microsoft

From classic movies to centuries-old artefacts, London’s museums and galleries have got crowd-pulling wonders in spades. But how do you go about keeping all that culture in tip-top condition for future generations? From fault-spotting drones to storytelling robots, here’s how AI is helping.

Making it easier to track down masterpieces

1. Making it easier to track down masterpieces

Earlier this year, the UK government commissioned London organisation Collections Trust to carry out a report into the feasibility of using AI to pull together a huge, searchable, digitised archive of the nation’s cultural collections. We know what you’re thinking – squinting at a Picasso on your phone is never going to match standing in front of one – but the implications for arts education are huge, and mean the people organising the blockbuster shows of the future ought to be among the brightest curatorial minds in the world.

Rolling back the years for heritage sites

2. Rolling back the years for heritage sites

The fact that London has centuries of history to its name means that some of our most treasured pieces of heritage aren’t holed up in museums – they’re outside, exposed to the elements, and millions of visitors want to get up close and personal with them. For evidence of the impact this can have, take the Great Wall of China. After centuries of weathering, it’s now subject to an ongoing restoration project involving drones and deep-learning AI tech, which creates 3D models of the Wall and detects structural flaws. Similar methods could well come into play when the Tower of London or Cutty Sark are next due for a spruce-up.

Keeping big-screen classics alive

3. Keeping big-screen classics alive

Between through-the-night marathon screenings of cult classics and one-off airings of decades-old oddities, London is one of the best cities in the world in which to be a cinema fan. The only problem is that celluloid doesn’t last forever. Thankfully, data scientists at companies like California’s Deepsense.Ai are here to help, using AI-driven technologies to not only digitise pre-digital films, but clean up images, sharpen details and even colourise along the way. Great news for anyone whose idea of a festival involves sitting in a dark cinema for hours on end.

Helping everyone get the most out of museums

4. Helping everyone get the most out of museums

The best way to support the work museums do is, of course, to visit them, and AI is leading the way in making sure that everybody, regardless of language or impairments, is able to enjoy exhibitions and collections. Last year, the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC introduced Pepper, a cute, multi-lingual robot who answers visitors’ questions and expands on the themes of exhibitions. As AI gets smarter, expect Pepper-like droids to be commonplace in London’s museums.

Discover what's next for London

Explore our Future Cities series
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What will London's skyline look like in 20 years' time? How will we respond to climate change, a rapidly increasing population and air pollution? Will we all be eating insects in the near future? In this series, we’re delving deeper into the future we know is coming, and investigating the developments that could shift the way we exist in the coming decades.

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