Man taking a picture of a painting in a museum
With this new app, identifying artifacts could become as easy as taking a picture in a museum. Image: Pedro Ribeiro Simões (Wikimedia), CC BY 2.0

Germany is developing an app to help identify stolen artifacts

In 2015, the German government launched a research program focused on the illegal trade in cultural artifacts. Now, an app is being developed to help police and customs officials identify which artifacts are stolen.

The app is called ‘KIKu’, derived from German ‘Künstliche Intelligenz’ and ‘Kulturgüter’, meaning artificial intelligence and cultural objects. In essence, the app uses a database of images to ‘learn’ to identify general information about artifacts, like its age or place of origin. If someone is transporting an artifact with false documents, this information could be very useful, for example. The app can then compare the item with records of stolen cultural artifacts.

The app’s general image database currently consists of images from the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and collections from Berlin. According to Martin Steinebach, the head of the department at the Fraunhofer Institute in Darmstadt where the app is being developed, the app should ideally have about ten times more data to ‘learn’ from.

Steinebach also told The Art Newspaper that human experts would still be necessary to identify a stolen object, but that the app could be a first reference. If the app indicates that an object might be stolen, officials could then contact archeologists or other specialists to look at it.

Source: The Art Newspaper (English), Frauenhofer Institute website (German)

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