Wherever we go, we are surrounded by history. Across the globe, cultural heritage is passed down through the generations.
It is in the buildings and structures around us. It is in the art and artifacts we treasure. It lives in the language we speak and the stories we tell. We tend to think of our cultural heritage as somehow set in stone, permanent and indestructible. Yet we fight a never ending and very expensive battle to preserve it for the future. And today, it is under attack as never before. Not only are the ravages of time threatening our cultural heritage, but conflicts, catastrophic events, climate change, globalisation and tourism are all exacting a heavy price. Technology is often seen as something that destroys the past – but ironically, it is now the most essential weapon in the battle. Here’s how technology is preserving our cultural heritage.
As you can imagine, creating these replicas via crowdsourced 2D images is extremely laborious and time-consuming. Increasingly, artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms are being used to do all the required sourcing, allowing enormous amounts of images to be cross-referenced and stored in a matter of hours. This will enable even more accurate and extensive archiving and even better replicas to be created. AI will also make restoration and preservation of existing cultural heritage far easier and vastly superior to previous methods. Information is digitized, and AI algorithms alter the pixels of damaged areas by cross-referencing them mathematically with the undamaged. Infinitely more accurate than the human eye - and can be repeated ad infinitum with no risk of damage to the actual artifact, architecture or work of art. AI algorithms will continue to be endlessly fine-tuned and cross-referenced with similar algorithms worldwide in the coming years, resulting in even more precise results.
Airborne technology is being increasingly used in the fight to preserve our cultural heritage. And not only is it being used to save it, but it is also being used to find it. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is remote sensing technology which measures distances by hitting a target from above with a laser and analysing the reflected light. It generates hyper-accurate 3D data about the surface area it targets and the natural and man-made environments that exist there. It has already been used to reveal over 60,000 Mayan structures that were lying undiscovered in the jungles of Guatamala, without needing a single boot on the ground. Drones are also being used to excellent effect, documenting and monitoring huge areas and removing the need for all that costly manpower.
Virtual reality (VR) technology will play a leading role in preserving our cultural heritage in the coming years. Many of the most important sites and architecture are extremely fragile. Human interaction with these locations is doing a great deal of harm. Machu Picchu in Peru was only discovered in 1911, yet it is already being destroyed by the presence of hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit annually. Stonehenge has had chips taken from the stones; the Parthenon and the Great Wall of China have had graffiti and vandalism to contend with. Waste and debris accumulate everywhere, causing enormous problems. As more cultural heritage sites and objects are digitally mapped and recorded, VR technology will increasingly become the way that people experience them. We’ll all eventually be able to walk through places, look at (and touch!) artifacts and works of art without ever seeing them with our own eyes.
Ultimately, our cultural heritage will be preserved via technology. Efforts in research, innovation, data sharing and project work will need to be pooled internationally. Using the technical expertise of specialist organisations like Databenc in Italy will become ever more important to sustainably promote and preserve the cultural heritage of countries all across the world.
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