Top Technology Trends for 2019: What it means for Museums & Nonprofits


Technology is rapidly evolving the operations of museums and nonprofits. Now more than ever organizations must keep abreast of the technologies irrevocably changing the way they interact with visitors and administer services. Gartner, the global research and advisory firm, recently predicted the 2019 trends that will accelerate technological progress in years to come. This post examines which trends track with advancements in the museum and nonprofit sectors, providing a prescient glimpse into what the future may hold.


As we wrote back in 2016, artificial intelligence can be used to optimize collections management, decipher data trends, and inform marketing and fundraising strategies. Today, museum visitors can interact with sophisticated robots and chatbots at the Smithsonian, Akron Art Museum, and the Museum of Tomorrow. Not only that, the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro developed the IBM Watson solution IRIS+, an AI-driven system that analyzes patterns in visitors’ interactions with the museum’s chatbot interface, going so far as to recommend social and environmental initiatives that align with a visitor’s interests. As artificial intelligence applications become more mainstream in the museum and nonprofit sectors it is increasingly important to understand and minimize bias. It is clear that artificial intelligence will solve some of the world’s biggest problems, and museums are well-positioned to benefit greatly.


Augmented analytics use automation to identify data patterns, democratizing the type of advanced analysis previously accessible only to data experts. Gartner predicts that by 2020, “more than 40% of data science tasks will be automated, resulting in increased productivity and broader use ...” This will help fill the gaps in data which is critical in an age of growing importance for making data-driven decisions.


AI-driven development is the embedding of AI into applications and development tools. These new tools disrupted the art market in 2018, raising ethical quandaries regarding AI-created artworks. Christie’s auctioned its first AI-created painting in October. The portrait, “Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy”, was estimated to sell for between $7,000 and $10,000. It sold for $435,500 in under seven minutes. How soon until museums start hosting exhibitions of AI-generated works, and what ethical distinctions need to be made between those and galleries of primarily human-produced works?


Gartner states that by 2022, “70% of enterprises will be experimenting with immersive technologies.” A recent article in VentureBeat by Cuseum’s CEO examines the vast potential of augmented reality in the museum experience. In fact, museums are already spearheading innovative and creative applications of AR; Cuseum partnerships have developed digital art works at Pérez Art Museum Miami and brought the work of Gustav Klimt to life at the Museum of Applied Art in Vienna.


Blockchain is a digital, distributed, decentralized ledger which has become a hot topic as of late. It was first used as the foundation of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, but blockchain’s ability to track and validate has several emerging applications in the nonprofit sector. Blockchain’s foremost application is as a chronological, digital framework for tracking the movement of physical and digital objects. Companies like Verisart, Artex, and Blockchain Art Collective are spearheading new ways to approach the provenance of art and objects, and even the sale of digital assets. Additionally, blockchain can be used to establish a new level of transparency amongst purchases, donations, and other transactions.


Gartner describes smart spaces as “physical or digital environment(s) in which humans and technology-enabled systems interact in increasingly open, connected, coordinated and intelligent ecosystems”. Smart spaces, such as smart cities, use technology to improve the lives of residents. San Diego and Jacksonville, for example, partnered with GE Lighting to implement LED streetlights that automatically adjust to weather and reduce energy expenditure. Art is a part of every healthy community, and smart city developers like UK-based CityVerve have begun working with artists to create smart digital art aimed to increase creativity and vibrancy. As quality of life emerges at the center of smart city initiatives, museums, nonprofits, and artists can contribute to the development of the cities of tomorrow.


High profile data-breaches have dotted 2018 headlines, sparking consumer awareness of the value and privacy of personal data. Data security is increasingly important as nonprofits integrate technology into all aspects of their operations. Preventative measures to protect data against internal and external threats are being taken by private and public entities alike. At a minimum, these include data encryption, dual-authentication, and the separation of public and internal WiFi systems.

Museums have made enormous strides toward integrating technology into all facets of operations, but a few emerging trends haven’t caused any widespread, seismic shifts in the museum sector … yet. Gartner’s list also includes the use of digital twins, or digital representations of real-life systems and processes; the use and improvements of edge devices to create fast, connected IoT systems; and the emerging use of quantum supercomputers. Though nonprofits are not always the first adopters of emerging technologies, increased accessibility paves a path for accelerated integration in the future — you never know what 2019 will bring.

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