This year, EuropeanaTech 2023 entirely focused on current technological innovations and challenges. The talks and presentations revolved around the further implementation of 3D in the framework of Europeana and European cultural heritage institutions (CHIs), the present and future of artificial intelligence (AI), and new approaches to working methods in the digitization processes of CHIs. The following paragraphs briefly touch on these topics in the context of the conference and discuss innovations and results.
3D cultural heritage
On the one hand, since the launch of the Spanish Presidency, the topic of 3D digitization of European cultural heritage has been the most talked about topic at Europeana, that created the TwinIt! campaign. In this sense, some projects that deal with current methods and “best practices” in this field were presented. The aim of these efforts is the preservation of the tangible and intangible cultural heritage including major archaeological and architectural finds. Developments in this field call for the inclusion of 3D in digital archiving, in the spirit of a holistic approach to the documentation of cultural heritage. Therefore, 3D objects will be the focus of the coming years. Nevertheless, there are still some questions remaining open in this area: Which and how many objects should be digitized in 3D? What will the framework (standards, licenses, implementation and training) look like that will support the publication of the objects in the coming years? What solutions are there to climate-friendly long-term archiving and open access viewer software? The 3D initiative requires a great deal of dedication and investment to drive capacity building, create the necessary infrastructure, and establish communication channels with CHIs.
AI: Potentials and problems
On the other hand, the topics of AI, Machine Learning and Computer Vision were established as further key areas. Due to its acute importance, the conversation about AI took up the most space. Among other things, it focused on the opportunities, but also the dangers and ‘pitt falls’ that come with the introduction of artificial intelligence. The conference revealed that the growth of this new technology in the cultural heritage sector is further being explored and tested for its potential applications. Despite the inaccuracy that currently prevails in some cases, AI holds enormous potential in terms of data processing and management. A task force is monitoring developments in this regard in Europe and experiments to improve AI are constantly ongoing. A frequent point of criticism has been the environmental footprint of AI applications. Creating, testing and using AI tools consumes enormous amounts of energy. In times of climate change, the onus is on policy makers, developers and institutions to consider the ecological aspects and propose solutions to create sustainable applications.
Expanding digital cultural heritage not only requires increased technical training for cultural heritage professionals, but also a broader focus on the types of digitized objects. While image and text objects make up the largest amount of digitized material, audio, video, and 3D files are rare. Europeana aims to engage in a holistic working approach to Europe’s digital cultural heritage. In addition to 3D, audio and video should also receive increased attention. To this end, an interesting project was presented during the conference: Digitally exploring the acoustic history of Notre-Dame cathedral. The stated goal of digitization in general is to create a “digital twin” that will contribute to the preservation of cultural heritage. In the before mentioned project the team created an acoustic digital twin of Notre-Dame in Paris. By modeling the cathedral using numerical simulations and then calibrating it with the help of acoustic measurements, the sound body of Notre-Dame – still under reconstruction after the 2019 fire – could be recreated and tested with audio recordings. According to the research director, the model created in the process can easily be transferred to other buildings or to the same structure in another century. In this way, sounds of the present and the past can be recreated and saved for further exploration.
Getting everyone on board
In the last paragraph, the technical training of the individual institutions was mentioned. This topic was also part of a thematic block during the conference. For larger digitization projects, two factors are always crucial: the means and the available intellectual resources. Large cultural heritage institutions usually have both. On the other hand, small to medium-sized institutions and their collections often fall by the wayside because they cannot afford a bigger project or lack the expertise. For this reason, Europeana has launched the project “From shelf to Europeana” and presented the first results at the conference. The goal of the project is to create a handbook for the digitization of objects in the cultural heritage sector. It will iteratively explain each step from planning to the publication of the digital object. The focus is on digitization for sharing and publication on Europeana.
Common European Data Space for Cultural Heritage
Finally yet importantly, an important topic of the conference was the creation of the “Data Space for Cultural Heritage” planned for the near future. The project is to encompass the entire European cultural heritage scene, including all institutions and aggregators. The goal of the “Data Space” is to create an aggregated data pool that acts in a decentralized manner by publishing the data via the institutions and aggregators. The data should subsequently be retrievable via a SPARQL endpoint. For the purpose of this endeavor, on the one hand, the SOLID-based Decentralised Aggregation Taskforce has been established, which deals with the prevailing frameworks and standards as well as with network, organization and platforms. On the other hand, there is the related Linked Data Taskforce, which is experimenting in this area to improve the application and dissemination of LOD. In a shared “Data Space”, as mentioned before, the need for shared standards and working environments as well as a user-friendly user interfaces arises. Europeana therefore presents the following key points for this problem:
- More dynamic and user-friendly
- Persistent Identifier (PID)
- Linked Open Data (LOD)
- International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF)
- “Network of Terms”
- NDE Dataset Register
The exact framework conditions and the development of the necessary infrastructure will be determined in the further course of the project.