• General Audience

Artificial intelligence for the tourist is not far away

2011-07-25 L’Osservatore Romano

Fifty years have passed since the 1956 summer school in Dartmouth saw the official birth of artificial intelligence. But still today, there does not seem to be any agreement on a program of research. The themes under discussion are many: learning and automatic reasoning, artificial intelligence for the intelligent environment, computational creativity, robotics, planning, application for medicine. And perhaps not everyone knows that that art, too, can help bring us closer to the subject.

Museums, archeological sites and cultural patrimony in general are areas of stimulating and interesting research also because they benefit from the application of new and advanced information technologies. For example, the use of the smart-phone as a personalized “tourist guide” is made possible through the techniques of artificial intelligence.

Cultural sites are interesting because they furnish a vast array of research possibilities, especially when they involve visitors who are willing to experiment with new technologies. Users, in fact, are often inundated with an enormous amount of information and are not always able to make the right decisions, either because they do not have adequate ability and knowledge or more simply because they do not have the time.

To address such problems, automatic “intelligent” systems have been created that are able to advise visitors, based on their needs and interests. Such methods, which are tailor-made to best satisfy the needs of the user, are implemented in personalization systems that furnish “services” to users based on their preferences, knowledge, character and so on; this user information constitutes the so-called “user model” which can be obtained explicitly, when the user describes his characteristics to the system or implicitly, if the user model is obtained through automatic mechanisms which infer information based on the behavior of the user.

Unfortunately, limitations of budget and sometimes, time, do not always allow the creation of technology such as the one described, even though it would be beneficial for exploring and experimenting different research directions.

The PIL project (Peach-Israel) represents an attempt to address the problems just described. A joint Italian-Israeli research effort, it involves the Fondazione Bruno Kessler of Trento and the Caesarea-Rothschild Research Center of Haifa. Under the auspices of the program, a multimedia mobile guide has been developed for tourist who visit to the Hecht Museum in Haifa, Israel.

The project, begun three years ago, has recently concluded with the creation of software for the iPhone, to be used by visitors inside the museum.

The aim of the project was to apply new technologies for museum-goers, using a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), which offers a multimedia presentation of the museum, according to the different levels of interest of the user.

The development of the project and the creation of prototypes was an occasion for addressing three types of technological challenges: technological infrastructure, the positioning of sensors to allow user interaction and user interface.

By Ernest D’Avanzo, University of Trento and Tsvi Kuflik, University of Haifa