Giving art a voice with Watson

Art comes to life with AI for Brazilian museum goers

According to a 2010 study by the Brazilian Institute of Economic Research, 72 percent of Brazilians have never been inside a museum. The reasons for this are many, including the feeling that art can seem unapproachable unless you’re exposed to it.

For the launch of IBM Watson in Brazil, Ogilvy Brazil created an interactive guide, The Voice of Art, that lets people have conversations with work housed at the Pinacoteca de São Paulo Museum. The Voice of Art uses cognitive computing to make museum visits more interactive and personalized with an artificial intelligence assistant powered by IBM Watson, answering voiced questions from visitors about specific paintings and sculptures at the Pinacoteca de São Paulo Museum. The project augments their visit with information that can give the visitor a deeper appreciation of artwork or historical context, and bring subjects to life through experiential storytelling.

“When we found this scary piece of data — 72 percent of Brazilians had never been to a museum — we saw an opportunity to make use of Watson’s cognitive intelligence with an issue he could help solve — making visits more interactive and easy for most Brazilians, and creating something that can be expanded to other markets, museums, and galleries.” said Ogilvy Brazil’s chief creative officer, Claudio Lima.

Using Watson during a visit is easy and intuitive. At Pinacoteca’s entrance, the visitor receives a smartphone and headset with the mobile application “The Voice of Art” installed. As they walk through the museum, they’ll receive notifications as they approach the art pieces and will be prompted to speak questions into the headset’s mic about the paintings and sculptures that are near them.

Developing the capability to answer the questions, IBM programmers spent six months working with art curators and scholars from Pinacoteca Museum, feeding Watson information and answers about the art pieces. The information came from extensive research and data mining, from books, old newspapers, biographies, interviews, and the Internet. The conversational scope can range from historical and technical facts (like “What technique was used to create this painting?”), to the piece’s relation to contemporary events.

Unlike typical audio tours, Watson doesn’t rely on canned audio clips, but instead uses a cognitive chatbot to answer the questions in real time, using Watson APIs that understand human language and intention through IBM artificial intelligence services, hosted on the IBM Bluemix cloud platform.

“In such a technological world, museums could not be left behind. The Pinacoteca is always reinventing itself and creating strategies to speak with its audiences. The partnership between Pina and IBM represents this effort, which has resulted in an unprecedented, interactive and accessible action,” said Paulo Vicelli, director of institutional relations at the Pinacoteca of São Paulo.

“The Voice of Art” debuted at the Pinacoteca on April 5, and will run through June 5. Lima says the campaign has already yielded a 200 percent rise in museum attendance.

It is expected that Watson’s abilities like this will inspire other interactions, and not just in art.

“We have already had emails showing interest from two other museums in Brazil. IBM was also approached by companies wanting to use the technology so that people can have conversations with specific products through their smartphones,” Lima says.

Learn more about how to build with Watson here.