Unlocking Canada's military aviation history
National Air Force Museum of Canada, Mohawk College join forces in ethical AI project
The National Air Force Museum of Canada (NAFMC) in Trenton, Ontario, is collaborating with Mohawk College to explore the responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to preserve the captivating history of Canadian military aviation.
The NAFMC and IDEAWORKS, the applied research division of Mohawk College, will jointly conduct research focusing on the ethics behind using facial recognition AI to catalog and index archival images of members of Canada’s air forces from the NAFMC’s collection. Working in partnership with NAFMC curators, Professor Stephen Adams of Mohawk’s School of Engineering Technology and Aviation will lead the project with the help of a team of student research assistants.
The NAFMC houses thousands of historic photos in its expansive archival collection. To digitally index these photos, they need to be classified with information to make it easy for users/visitors to search, navigate, and filter them. Facial recognition artificial intelligence (AI) and crowd-sourced data could be used to generate valuable, searchable annotations for the NAFMC’s collection. However, because these annotations will encompass biographical details of the individuals depicted in the photographs and descriptions of the contextual elements within each image, there are privacy and ethical concerns that need to be addressed before AI can be used.
Mohawk’s research team aims to advance museum practices, which will ultimately foster public engagement, and contribute to the broader knowledge and accessibility of our cultural heritage. This research is a significant step in preserving the stories of Canadian air forces personnel and making this history accessible to the public.
Prof. Adams emphasizes that the goal of the research project is to investigate the use of the new technology while studying the ethical implications of its uses in Canadian museums. "Our goal is to effectively utilize AI tools in a manner that respects privacy and upholds the dignity of veterans and their communities. By collaborating with experienced museum staff, we aim to connect the public with the rich photographic history preserved in museum archives."
Project researchers will delve into the ethical considerations surrounding the creation and implementation of facial recognition systems, collaborating with the NAFMC and cultural organizations to explore privacy standards. The objective is to establish guidelines that carefully balance individual privacy rights with the public’s right to access historical knowledge.
The results of the project will improve the public’s interaction with historical archives, assist NAFMC staff in their work and provide a new tool for researchers and historians. Mohawk’s team intends to train the museum staff on how to leverage AI products and technology within research, ensuring adherence to ethical considerations.
"We’re excited to be partnering with the applied research division of Mohawk College to explore the application of new technologies in the Museum field,” says Kevin Windsor, Executive Director, National Air Force Museum of Canada. “This project will further our ability to tell Canada’s air force history by building on the RCAF’s historical narrative and allow the public the opportunity to learn more through participatory engagement. With the RCAF celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2024, this is a meaningful and opportune time to discover more about your air force."
The project will also create a generalized framework for photo digitization that can be applied to a variety of museums. The research will address potential risks to participant privacy and the privacy of the subjects in the photographs, as well as exploring methods for self-regulating crowdsourcing.
This collaboration was made possible thanks to funding from the Partnership Engage Grant, provided by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Prof. Adams' research release time is supported by IDEAWORKS’ Centre for Emerging Research Initiatives.