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Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism recently announced that they selected 104 art museums for its ‘2021 Smart Museum’ initiative. 86 public and 18 private museums will provide visitors with experience infused with artificial intelligence (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies. The government has categorized the funding into specifically (1) creating technologically integrated culture content, (2) building smart museums, and (3) creating online content.

As exciting as it seems, what impact can we expect from this initiative? 

At the National Museum of Korea, people can see 3D modelling recreations of famous traditional paintings from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897) such as ‘Climbing Mt. Geumgang’ or take a VR tour to explore the museum storage area where hidden treasures of the museum collection await. 

At YeongWol Astronomical Observatory, visitors can observe over 9,500 artificial stars unaffected by the weather or try paragliding using the VR zone (The observatory is one of the most famous paragliding sites in Korea).  

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Photo: Byeolmaro

Both examples demonstrate that with technology, visitors can experience depth beyond the tangible reality. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality will enlighten both visitors and museum personnels as interactions escalate what can be made publicly available and/or possible. Viewers will learn to articulate their curiosities and expectations further as their understanding of the technologies deepen, and museum personnels will monitor social responses and reflect them to their next exhibition planning process as they work closely with artists and project managers in charge. Boundaries for technological experimentation and human expression will expand as demonstrated in Shin Changho’s Beyond Black, for Korea National Contemporary Dance Company last year:

 

AI program Madi “watches” Shin’s dancers and translates their joints and limbs into dots and lines, then extrapolates the algorithms to generate infinite ways to “place dots and lines in unique patterns”, some of which the dancers relearned from the computer to perform in Beyond Black. You wouldn’t know the movement’s origin, although you could find something quirkily robotic in its isolations, like signals being sent to different limbs in turn, but there’s nothing mechanical about its rough-edged, human performance. Whether people or machines create the steps, it’s the humans dancing, and watching, who make the meaning (The Guardian).” 

But the use of artificial intelligence within the art/music industry has raised concerns too. National broadcaster SBS used artificial intelligence to have Kim Kwang-seok(Korea’s famous folk singer who passed away in 1996)’s voice revived in contemporary music on the program, ‘Competition of the Century: AI vs Human.’ “While some may consider a competition between an AI singer and a human as harmless fun, others warn the technology poses threats that need to be addressed by stricter guidelines and regulations (CNN).”

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Misuse of AI already prevalent in Korean society include fraud with voice phishing scams, pornography with deepfake videos, and copyright issues. “According to a 2019 report by Amsterdam-based cybersecurity firm Sensity, 25 percent of those who were exploited for deep fake pornography without their consent were K-pop singers. There have also been audio compilations of celebrities’ voices, edited to sound sexual and to mislead listeners into thinking they are real celebrity sex tapes (The Korea Herald).” With more attention on the use of AI, questions need to be asked as to what is acceptable or not.

In December 2020, South Korea drew up its first-ever ethical standards for artificial intelligence. Termed “AI for Humanity,” the standards call for human dignity, public benefit and the rightful purpose of technology. Proposed by the Ministry of Science and ICT and the Korea Information Society Development Institute, the announced ethical standards will impact every Korean citizen. 

The ‘2021 Smart Museum’ initiative by Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism will affect 104 museums around the country and the people who will visit them in 2021. But we need to think beyond the impact it will have on us on a cursory-level. Every integration of technology with human experience is like the shoelace you place in each shoelace hole. There can be creative ways to tie laces, but the ultimate goal is always the same: You need to wear your shoes. It’s the same with technology. How we use it is up to us – but the ultimate goal should always be to place humanity as a priority. 

“The AI ethical standards will serve as a starting point for our society to discuss and deliberate on the issue of AI ethics,” ICT Minister Choi Ki-young said. “We will try to make AI a platform that can function with its focus centered on people (The Korea Herald).

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