ELSA Lab for AI, Digital Culture & Media

Published on: 10 April 2022

The media sector, cultural institutions and creative industries are cultural cornerstones that are in the vanguard of the digital transformation in many areas. So it is important not only to know what is already happening there in terms of artificial intelligence (AI) but above all to know how. The goal is to achieve ethical, human-centric AI solutions within the digital culture and media sectors.

What social challenges in AI are being worked on?

Personalised recommendation systems for e.g. news and music, AI applications that can create their own art, automated content creation for writing texts: all that is already happening. And this use of AI is increasingly playing a role in our culture. On the one hand, it makes things more convenient and provides an opportunity to bring news and cultural expressions more specifically to the attention of an interested audience.

On the other hand, using this new technology goes hand in hand with ethical responsibilities: as AI gains more and more influence over what is offered and how, it may in some cases clash with (or even run counter to) the right to privacy and the public values of accessibility, inclusion and diversity. A business that uses a personalised recommendation system for its customers, for instance, must then handle its users’ data and wishes carefully. This type of recommendation system must not lead to ‘filter bubbles’ or potential polarisation and should instead counteract those undesirable effects. There are many more examples like this of how using AI can have both positive and negative impacts. The ELSA Lab for AI, Digital Culture & Media therefore takes a critical look at developments in this arena and thinks about solutions to these kinds of challenges.

What types of solutions are offered to the end user?

This lab focuses primarily on how AI is changing digital culture and media, looking for elements that have a positive effect on that process. For instance, the lab explores what practical solutions are possible for achieving human-centric and ethical applications of AI in digital culture and media. This should preferably be tackled in the context of a real-world case because – given that it is a complex and often philosophical challenge – it is important to keep things as small and as concrete as possible at first. Based on knowledge and experience gained from practical cases, the lab is simultaneously working on overarching solutions that will help create a healthy digital culture with universal access, social engagement and identity and community building.

What AI methods or techniques are used in the research?

Numerous different AI techniques are already being used within the media sector, cultural institutions and creative industries – take language technology, for instance, or recommendation systems, bots, game technology, mixed reality, multimodal search engines, tracking and automated content generation. The lab therefore carries out research into how these technologies operate and into ways they could potentially be made to fit in with ethical requirements. In addition, the lab generates and disseminates knowledge about AI and provides AI-based solutions for professionals such as e.g. media production processes, tools for journalists, human-AI interaction, voice interaction and multimodal access to collections. Because collaboration is essential, the lab is helping construct a knowledge ecosystem that focuses on the use of AI in digital culture and media. That will be an ecosystem that encourages cooperation between disciplines.

Are we collaborating with other sectors?

Absolutely! Much of the knowledge and experience acquired by the lab is also highly relevant for other sectors. This is largely because the lab is helping create not only ‘AI for culture’ but also ‘culture for AI’. Media and cultural expressions also lend themselves well to making people aware of the capabilities of AI and the importance of an ethical, human-centric approach to that technology. That is therefore how this particular lab helps disseminate the important, overarching principles of the ELSA Labs. It also immediately explains our close cooperation with our media partners: the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Public Spaces and Media Perspectives.

What is the ultimate success this ELSA Lab can achieve?

The most crucial goal is creating active, interdisciplinary learning communities – collaborations that genuinely lead to new understandings of the application of AI within digital culture and media. The intended strategy is for the learning communities to apply and test research results in the field, letting them then provide valuable feedback about various approaches. It is expected that this will make it increasingly clear which practical methods genuinely give the desired results. It is not only about how researchers, customers and specialists can take AI solutions to the next level but also about what it takes to provide users ethically with the experience they want.

Awarded the NL AIC Label

NL AIC LabelThe Netherlands AI Coalition has developed the NL AIC Label to underline its vision for the development and application of AI in the Netherlands. An NL AIC Label formally recognises an activity that is in line with the aims and strategic goals of the NL AIC and/or the quality of that activity. The NL AIC would like to congratulate the ELSA Lab for AI, Digital Culture & Media.


The AI, Digital Culture & Media lab is a collaborative effort by research teams from the IT Department, the Media and Culture Studies Department, Utrecht Data School, Governing the Digital Society of Utrecht University, the Artificial Intelligence, Communication in the Digital Transition, Human Experience & Media Design, Quality Journalism in the Digital Transition and Marketing & Customer Experience research groups from the Digital Business & Media centre of expertise at Hogeschool Utrecht, and the media partners Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Public Spaces and Media Perspectives.

More information?

If you’re interested in how this ELSA Lab develops further, you can contact the following people if you have any questions:

If you would like more information about human-centric AI and the ELSA concept, please go to this page.

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