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Latest Heritage Pulse survey finds almost two thirds of heritage organisations are yet to consider how they might use AI in the future.

Arundel Castle, West Sussex, England as seen from a light aircraft.

Miles Sabin

Less than a quarter of heritage organisations are currently using artificial intelligence (AI) in their operations, according to the results of a new survey.

The finding comes from the latest Heritage Pulse survey from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) and Historic England. Of the 24% that said they are currently using AI, 41% said it was to help plan for the future through tasks such as generating ideas, with organisations made up of predominantly volunteers most likely to use it for future planning purposes.

Meanwhile, larger organisations were more likely to be using AI for marketing operations, including generating content, editing, programming adverts and analysing or interpreting data.


In total, 65% of respondents said they had not yet considered how they might use AI, with volunteer-led organisations most likely not to have considered using it. 

Josie Fraser, Head of Digital Policy at the National Lottery Heritage Fund says the survey results “demonstrates the sector already has an appetite to get the most out of AI tools and would appreciate expert support in navigating the technologies”.

“It’s a fast moving field with news of new tools and applications, as well as legal challenges, arriving on what seems like a daily basis.” 

Risk or opportunity?

Respondents were split when asked whether AI presented a risk of opportunity to their organisation.

Overall, 39% said it was an opportunity, compared with 26% who felt it presented more of a risk, while 35% said they were neutral or unsure, with larger organisations most likely to voice concern towards the use of AI and how it might affect them.

“As well as risks, AI represents significant new opportunities for the heritage sector, both in terms of core business practice and, really excitingly, in relation to specifically digital heritage practices, including preservation, digitisation, transcription and managing online collections,” Fraser commented.

Written responses to the Heritage Pulse survey suggests the sector also recognises AI as a development opportunity.

“Really, really interesting subject to those of us in archives - potentially a complete gamechanger for many digital archiving processes, and one in which we’re taking a close interest,” one respondent said.

“I think it’s going to revolutionise the way we work, yet it is little understood by our sector. It’s so important that we are not left behind,” said another.

However, some respondents were also wary of its use and pointed towards other priorities for the sector including skills, funding, and volunteer shortages.

“No doubt there is a potential in using AI but it should not be at the expense of human interaction and not introduced to be seen merely as “trendy”,” one respondent said.

“The heritage sector has built its reputation and viability on the actions and expertise of those working in it, AI needs to augment existing skills and expertise and not replace it.”

Another added: “The heritage sector undoubtedly needs some knowledge leadership on this to ensure we take advantage where appropriate and do not get stung due to lack of knowledge and training”.

Lack of confidence

A lack of confidence in where to find information or training on the uses of AI may be contributing to a slow uptake in the use of technologies in the heritage sector.

In total, 68% of respondents said they were a little unconfident or not at all confident they could find information or training on AI. In contrast, 7.2% said they were very confident.

Jo Burnham, freelance AI trainer for the cultural sector, told Arts Professional the vast literature on AI can be daunting and advised heritage organisations to try experimenting hands-on with AI tools.

When asked for advice for heritage organisations looking to embed AI into their operations, Burnham said organisations should prioritise quality over speed when learning AI software and to trust their experience: “remember that your intimate knowledge of your work processes qualifies you best to assess the utility of these tools”.

They also advised heritage organisations to have open conservations around AI and cultivate an environment that promotes open discussions about AI advancements.

Burnham added organisations should treat AI systems cautiously, never give sensitive information and to consult a data compliance officer when uncertain.

NLHF is running an interactive webinar for Heritage Pulse members on 4 October, led by Burnham, to introduce a selection of AI tools and techniques and explore how they might be used responsibly by the heritage sector.