From big data to computer chess: IT finds a place in the museum

Museums around the world are hosting technology-themed exhibits that explore everything from the history of computers to the future of digital networks. A curated guide

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Big data … digital networks … artificial intelligence …

These topics are moving out of labs and IT departments and into your local museum. From Canada to New Zealand, museums around the world are exploring how technology has shaped our past and will impact our future.

expertIP has put together this list of technology-themed exhibits in case you need help planning your next vacation or want your kids to understand what you do at work all day.

1. Connexions – The Plugged-In World of Communications

Ongoing  –  Canada Science and Technology Museum, Ottawa, ON

Connexions explores the past, present and future of electric and electronic communications. According to the exhibit’s website, “[V]isitors will explore how the field of communications is evolving at a rapid pace through a highly interactive and informative exhibition on the history and technology of digital communications and its impact on our everyday lives.”

The exhibit is the largest of its kind in Canada and contains artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the first short-wave radio transmitter that connected Canada to England in 1926 and a working amateur radio station. It also features information on the lives of Canadian inventors, such as Alexander Graham Bell and Reginald Fessenden.

In the digital network exhibit, visitors can become “packets of information” that travel through a digital network. They can also take a zip ride that demonstrates point-to-point wireless communications.

2. Codebreaker – Alan Turing’s Life and Legacy

Through July 31, 2013 – The Science Museum, London, UK

Alan Turing is known as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. During World War II, he created a supercomputer called the Bombe, which was used to decipher coded Nazi military messages and helped to prevent attacks against the Allies. Many historians believe that the Bombe reduced the length of the war by as much as two years.

Turing also left an amazing legacy to computer science, as his supercomputer paved the way for today’s computers. In 1945, he wrote specifications for the Pilot ACE computer, which was used in 1954 to determine the cause of the Comet passenger jet crash.

However, Turing’s achievements have only recently been recognized. In 1952, he was arrested under anti-homosexual legislation and given the choice of jail or undergoing experimental hormonal treatments. He chose the experimental treatments and died shortly after they ended. It is widely believed that he committed suicide.

Items on display at the exhibit include the Pilot Ace, a military Enigma code machine and a “bombsight” mechanical computer, which was used on planes during World War II to aim bombs.

3. Robots and Beyond: Exploring Artificial Intelligence at MIT

Ongoing – MIT Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts

This exhibit gives visitors an insider’s look at the work that’s being done at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Laboratory. Visitors can interact with a number of MIT’s famous robots, including Kismet, the world’s first social robot that mimics and responds to human emotions.

According to the exhibit’s website, “Robots and Beyond gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the inventive concepts and processes that lead MIT’s AI labs to great contributions in many areas including medicine, underwater exploration, and entertainment. You’ll learn about tele-operated surgical robots, robotic legs, and socially intelligent humanoid robots that interact with their environments in human-like ways.”

4. Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing

Ongoing – Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California

Although many people can’t remember life before text messaging, the Computer History Museum makes the case that computing has a much longer legacy – spanning from the earliest calculators to today’s technology that seems to know more about us than we know about ourselves.

Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing takes visitors through the amazing history of computing. According to the exhibit’s website, visitors can “journey through 19 alcoves, each dedicated to a different aspect of computing and featuring an iconic object. Discover, in our multimedia displays, the back stories, development drama, and astonishing breakthroughs of the gadgets, gurus and companies you love or love to hate.”

Also, be sure to check out the Computer History Museum’s website for an interactive exhibit on the history of computer chess. You’ll learn about chess algorithms, find oral histories about the game and maybe even learn why you can never beat the computer.

5. Big Data Exhibit

Opens in November 2012 – National Library of New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand

Computerworld reported that the first exhibit in the newly renovated National Library of New Zealand will be about big data. However, no further details are available at this time.


What about you? Have you come across any technology-themed exhibits that you would like others to know about? If so, please share them below. You can also post the technology exhibits that you would like to see in a museum.

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