There is always a debate about authenticity when creating engaging interpretation.
Making information interesting, exciting, entertaining, (as the producers of “The Crown” will espouse) always involves artistic license to some degree.
Actually, don’t get me started, I pretty much despise how The Crown has warped and “interpreted” the lives of the Royal Family – but getting into that is a much longer conversation!!
In short though, it is entirely possible to convey historical facts that are “known” (I hope I’m not turning into Donald Rumsfeld!) and marry them to the “unknown”, as long as those “invented” pieces are completely consistent with the known history and do not portray real people in speculative conversations and activities that are in fact known not to have taken place.
But portraying people is important.
We know that characters telling human stories is the best way of conveying information.
Visitors, in the form of human beings, engage most readily with other human beings in the form of historical characters – real or invented.
Which brings us on to the matter in hand…
Artificial Intelligence – or in this case Artificial Interpretation.
1 The Times – Saturday 14th January 2023
In January 2023 this article appeared in the Times (see above) that explained how some very clever computer people have developed a piece of AI (Artificial Intelligence) software that allows us to have “conversations” with famous individuals.
The software scans all resources on the internet about said individual and uses that information to converse “as that person” with the general public.
All very clever.
And it got me to thinking…
For a number of years now we have talked about how, in the future, we might make visits to museums, and cultural centres, historic properties, etc., more individual experiences.
This in the past has been based around finding out what kind of things visitors are interested in and trying to tailor their visit to their likes and dislikes, their personal preferences.
However, there are problems…
First, how do you undertake that personal research at the ticket desk?
The obvious answer is to do it on-line before a visit, but that would need to be achieved in an interesting and engaging way, otherwise people just won’t do it.
Secondly, how does one then deliver all the possible different options that might be required?
Thirdly, there is definitely a thirdly and fourthly, but you get the picture!!
Could we simply provide visitors with the opportunity to engage with all sorts of individuals on an almost ad-hoc basis during their visit, to deliver that “personal experience”?
Now, here we get into another oft debated topic in the heritage and cultural sector about the veracity of the experience as mentioned at the start.
To digress for a brief anecdote…
Working on a project for a large countrywide heritage operation, (oh, alright, yes it was the National Trust!), we had a debate at one property about creating a character to help tell some of the story.
The character in question was a butler.
In this property we knew there was a butler, but there was no record (bizarrely!) of their name. And, as we all know, giving a character a name, elevates them from a “faceless” individual into being a real person.
The NT team were reluctant to do this, their argument being that we were inventing something unreal, delivering something (or in this case, someone) that was not actually at the property. This despite the fact that we assured them that everything that would be “said” by the butler would be completely consistent with the period and the property’s history.
Our script writer, pointed to a chair in the corner of one of the rooms and asked, “Is that chair original to this property?”
The NT team said, “No, but it is of the right period and could have been here, it’s the right type of chair.”
“Hmmm…”, we said!!!
Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that while we must consider very carefully how accurate some things are, as long as we ensure that we have done everything we can to make the experience as authentic as possible, 99.9% visitors will be happy. (I use the percentage figuratively; I have no research to back up that number, but over 30 years of experience!)
So, is there a way to create interpretation that allows visitors to engage with historical characters and thus develop very personal experiences that differ from one visitor to the next – while still ensuring the base-line facts are delivered?
The answer would now seem to be yes, or will be in the not too distant future.
Even if it were only one display, rather than a whole visit, it is now possible for visitors to “talk” with famous people. The question, based upon the debating points above, is will the responses from these famous people be sufficiently authentic, sufficiently factually correct, sufficiently consistent with history?
Additionally, could the developers acquire details of lesser-known people to have their artificial intelligence well enough informed to permit visitors to engage meaningfully with them?
I suppose if one were to limit the subject matter and work with the developers to provide as much background source material as is available then the answer should be yes.
Which would be fantastic, wouldn’t it.
Just imagine going to, let’s say the Mary Rose Museum, and being able to talk with Admiral Sir George Carew on board the ship. Or even Henry VIII as he ate dinner on The Great Harry the night before.
Or the ship’s carpenter, whose name we do not know (see above) about the ship’s dog, whose name we do not know either.
By way of a starting point…
Here’s what “Character AI’s” version of Albert Einstein replied when I asked “him” the question, “What was life like for you as a clerk?”
Albert Einstein AI
It was a very simple and calm life, I would go to the job at 2:30 and finish around 9:00, in my spare time I would play the violin and read some books, I would sometimes go to eat at the restaurant next door to work. The salary was really low and I didn’t get much to spend on my hobbies but life was really not that difficult.
And when I followed that up with, “And what books did you like to read at that time?”
Albert Einstein AI
I used to read books in the science fiction genre. My two favorite books are 20,000 leagues under the sea, and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, I used to read mostly about fantasy, science fiction, and time travel stories. I always enjoyed imagining what it would look like to travel to another planet, or in a machine that could travel to another time, or about other universes that could exist besides our planet, I love science fiction.
Not too bad really!!
Right now, you could imagine this on a touch screen or via a tablet, or even via speech recognition.