A museum masterpiece in your living room? See how 5G could change our cultural experiences

By: Scott Steinberg

After centuries of introducing audiences to history’s greatest works, museums—new and old—are leveraging 5G technology to add sci-fi–like levels of fun to exhibits and reimagine the role they’ll play in the future.

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Museumgoers of tomorrow will be able to easily browse The Louvre’s masterworks in 3D right from their smartphones, step into the world of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, or virtually hang the Mona Lisa in their living room for a spell. Alternately, one day they may have the option to stop by a classic museum like The Smithsonian and visit exhibits that let you walk among dinosaurs by stepping straight into 360-degree recreations of Jurassic Age environs, or journey to the sea’s bottom and swim among sunken ships just by donning a virtual reality (VR) headset. It’s all coming soon thanks to technological advancements now made possible by 5G high-speed wireless connectivity, which is continually adding new dimensions of interactivity to the traditional museum-going experience.

As a futurist and trends expert, I assure you that these sci-fi–like innovations are only the beginning. A growing number of 5G innovations—from 4K ultra-high-definition remote video tours to augmented reality (AR) digital pop-ups—will soon help museums and art galleries use new tech that will modernize what we expect from cultural experiences.

What’s driving these changes?

Ironically, to understand the driving forces behind these cultural advancements, you don’t have to look much further than your own home. Over 6 billion worldwide people currently own smartphones, the average household now owns 11 connected devices, and a shocking 3.2 billion images are shared daily. With interactivity and innovation now second nature to modern-day audiences of all ages (face-morphing selfie, anyone?), it’s no wonder that a host of new museum installations are leveraging augmented reality, 360-degree video and other cutting-edge technologies to offer new ways to experience exhibits.

What’s more, in the age of Snapchat and Instagram, the concept of art and museums (and the very way in which we interact with both) is constantly transforming to become more interactive and social. New cultural hotspots like the Museum of Pizza, Candytopia and Museum of Illusions are now every bit as much adventures as art galleries. At places like the Museum of Pizza, you not only see the exhibition but get to be a part of it (and likely it will be a highlight on your Instagram feed), and that ushers in new expectations for the modern museumgoer.

So how are museums going to meet those expectations?

One answer might be places like Atlanta’s Illuminarium installation, which bills itself as being “VR without the glasses.” It currently invites visitors to immerse themselves in an African safari as they’re surrounded by $30 million worth of video projection, sound, scent and floor vibration technology.

Another is the collaboration between the Smithsonian and Verizon 5G Labs. This partnership recently leveraged over 2.8 million 2D and 3D assets from the Smithsonian Open Access collections to create a set of AR-powered online museum exhibits that are browsable via the web. These augmented reality exhibitions (featuring notable objects like Charlie Parker’s alto sax, the Apollo 11 moon mission spacecraft’s hatch door, etc.) come loaded with narrated backgrounds accessible whenever QR codes are scanned on your phone.

Unsurprisingly, the emerging field of “remote tourism” is already being pioneered in Europe. The field relies on the impact of 5G to power visits to foreign cities and dip into museums and galleries from thousands of miles away (and have the ability to access robotic helpers on-site).

So what comes next?

Having served as a futurist for hundreds of leading brands, even I’m surprised by the direction things are trending. Specifically, toward a future where museum experiences will be increasingly personalized to each visitor’s tastes (for example, digital signs that automatically update to match your interests or native language) and designed for social networking and sharing. Put simply, because of the growing 5G impact and ability to power more complex and sophisticated applications, process mountains of data, and deliver incredibly detailed audiovisual experiences seamlessly in close to real time, passive exhibit viewing will soon be a thing of the past. Going forward, museums will increasingly be adding interactive and computer-enhanced dimensions to previously static experiences—including both giving real-world physical exhibits a futuristic upgrade or designing all-new types of experiences custom-built specifically for the digital realm.

In short, you’ll soon be able to ask holograms of history’s greatest figures all manner of questions and hold the crowns of the world’s most legendary kings and queens in your hand. What’s more, many of these forward-thinking exhibits will be able to be accessed by audiences without ever leaving their homes, at zero or low cost and (more frequently than not) in digitally enhanced fashion because of the 5G impact.

History museums that are focused on explaining —for example — what life was like in the Middle Ages will be able to interactively show as well as tell. Don’t be surprised if exhibits soon let you step into 360-degree panoramas of daily life in a castle town that let you role-play and interact with AI characters. Researchers at the BBC are already providing examples of new ways to make history come alive by allowing smartphone users to stream 360-degree video recreations of the Roman Baths at key moments in history right onto their devices via a mobile AR app.

Better yet, interactive stories, digital pop-ups, 3D scenes and soundscapes, and movies that you can activate on command with a flick of the wrist will be possible because of 5G technology. The panoramas that some museums use now to explain huge battles or historic timelines could expand to encompass full-scale simulations of historical conflicts—placing you right on the battlefields. In effect, 5G’s impact on connectivity is going to serve as the IT backbone for a host of new technologies and creative presentation methods that can transport you back in time and plop you down right in the middle of the action.

Of course, art galleries such as The National Gallery (which boasts an entire studio where artists are invited to tinker with experimental technologies including 5G applications) are also poised to go increasingly mobile and digital and expand remote access to users by leveraging high-tech solutions to create all sorts of imaginative online destinations. This past year, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art—in partnership with Verizon—created an experience that allowed access to digital galleries and nearly 50 works of art online, whose virtual confines you could view via your smartphone and play games within it. Several works of art in the collection, dubbed The Met Unframed, were even enhanced for AR so that you could watch objects come alive or virtually take art off the wall and see how it looked in your home.

Video game and metaverse (virtual reality spaces where you can interact in a computer-generated environment) options also present promising new frontiers for curators to explore going forward. For instance, World of Warships and Verizon have created an AR museum that lets you explore some of history’s most celebrated warships using digital pop-ups on your smartphone camera. Other new avenues that museum operators will undoubtedly explore further in coming years include the use of 5G technology to power three-dimensional soundscapes, room-sized 3D robotic panoramas, and ventures in smart tourism (which let users program their own customized online-distance-viewing and AR/VR-enhanced experiences).

What’s the overall effect?

Zoom out a level, and what you see is that 5G’s impact on connectivity is essentially transforming the physical shape of museums by helping these institutions morph from static real-world spaces into interactive virtual playgrounds. It’s also breathing new life into these storied institutions by inviting them to experiment with and pioneer a host of new and novel creative uses for many of tomorrow’s most promising emerging technologies.

While there’s always room for the classical approaches to culture, the promise of innovation is clear here, in that 5G networks open entirely new possibilities to museums and curators to attract new audiences. Likewise, 5G provides a speedy and trusted technology backbone that helps ensure constant connectivity for museumgoers and makes it seamless for exhibit builders to help tie all of these advanced innovations together. Better yet, as 5G becomes the new global communications standard, museums will increasingly be able to utilize these technologies to reinvent themselves for future generations, greatly expand public access and education, and rethink the fundamental role that they can play in helping shape culture and conversation.

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About the author:

An award-winning professional speaker, Scott Steinberg is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists. A bestselling author, his books include Parenting High-Tech Kids, The Modern Parent’s Guide series, and Think Like a Futurist. The head of consulting firm FutureProof Strategies, he helps companies adapt to emerging business and cultural trends. His website is www.FuturistsSpeakers.com.


The author has been compensated by Verizon for this article.

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