The Met, Microsoft, and MIT are Changing the Future of Art

Last night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), the organization revealed the results of its recent collaboration with Microsoft and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)—The Met x Microsoft x MIT—that imagines the new ways in which global audiences can engage with one of the world’s foremost art collections through artificial intelligence technologies. The collaboration is represented through a portfolio of prototypes, in various stages of development, each of which provides new perspectives on how artificial intelligence could transform future connections between people and art.

The Met x Microsoft x MIT collaboration marks the second anniversary of The Met’s Open Access Program, which has made the Museum’s collection one of the most accessible, discoverable, and useful on the internet by making all Creative Commons Zero (CC0) data and 406,000 high-res images from The Met collection available for use without restriction.

Photos by Victor Castro

“The Met’s vast collection covers 5,000 years of art and culture from around the world, and it is our mission to create multiple means for people to engage with this remarkable resource, both onsite and online,” said Max Hollein, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “This exciting collaboration with Microsoft and MIT demonstrates the potential of open data and artificial intelligence to digitally broaden access to hundreds of thousands of images and scholarly records, and demonstrates the continually expanding impact of the Open Access Program.”

Max Hollein, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met developed a new subject keywords dataset for its collection, under CC0, which provides a more advanced way to search the collection based on topics of interest. These subject keywords were made available to leading curators, designers, artificial intelligence researchers, open learning specialists, and creative technologists from The Met, Microsoft, and MIT at an invitation-only, two-day hack event in December 2018 in Cambridge (MA). The features and prototypes created during the hack event will be revealed at the Museum this evening. Participants worked with The Met Collection API, the subject keywords, and Microsoft’s AI technologies, including Azure Cognitive Services, Azure Search, Azure Kubernetes Service, Microsoft Machine Learning for Apache Spark, conversational AI, and custom models with Azure Machine Learning.

“What makes us uniquely human is our ability to express our experiences and culture through art. The Met has done an incredible job of preserving and broadening access to their rich collection of artifacts. We are excited by the role AI can play to provide everyone the opportunity to discover and experience this great trove of art in entirely new ways,” said Mitra Azizirad, Corporate Vice President, AI Marketing at Microsoft. “The close partnership between The Met, MIT, and Microsoft is a great example of how AI is empowering curators and technologists to make art and human history accessible and relevant to everyone on the planet.”

This collaboration between The Met, Microsoft, and MIT—led by MIT Open Learning and the Knowledge Futures Group, a joint initiative between the MIT Press and Media Lab—demonstrates the potential of the subject keywords dataset and Open Access Program as well as the previously unavailable ways in which artificial intelligence can use open data. It also allows for a better understanding of the opportunities that are accessible to anyone using the images and data as part of the Museum’s Open Access program.

“MIT shares The Met’s commitment to open access, paired with the power of Microsoft AI, in order to empower people globally to create new knowledge and ways of experiencing art and culture that are so vital to our humanity,” said Sanjay Sarma, Vice President for Open Learning, MIT.

Sanjay Sarma, Vice President for Open Learning at MIT

The Metropolitan Museum of Art launched The Met Collection API (application programming interface) in October 2018. This built on the Open Access Program announced in 2017 and enables any third party to sustainably integrate The Met collection into their website, ensuring that up-to-date versions of images and data are available to users.

“These prototypes demonstrate the incredible possibilities for artificial intelligence and open data to empower people globally through art,” said Loic Tallon, Chief Digital Officer of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “We hope they inspire, invite, and empower communities around the world to use The Met collection and AI technologies to create new ways for audiences globally to connect with art. It is this aspect of the Open Access Program that is most transformative for The Met: it opens the door for all types of makers, creators, artists, and technologists to participate in the collection and develop new narratives from the histories captured within the artworks.”