IPRI – Islamabad Policy Research Institute

Emerging tech solutions to our heritage problem

The heritage-tech industry illustrates how art and historical assets are documented, preserved and exhibited using technology. Within the umbrella of this nascent industry fall practitioners, academics, and institutions involved in heritage conservation, archaeology, history, tourism, folklore, languages, music, arts, creative industries, media, tech and culture. Some technologies becoming increasingly mainstream are Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Blockchain and NFTs.

Ubiquitous digitisation enables promising options for cultural heritage preservation, particularly from an academic perspective. Whilst current methods of preserving archaic histories will remain the gold standard, it is essential to link heritage science to technology. However, multidisciplinary approaches to using technology, to aid cultural heritage conservation, must be brought into the mainstream national discourse.

There is a pressing need to explore technological solutions to Pakistan’s heritage problem. It’s because several heritage sites have been conserved, and we have ample records of conditions which may result in degradation of heritage sites or transform the authentic experience. Renovations and maintenance may obscure heritage sites. They also may be destroyed by natural occurrences.

Moreover, inaccessibility for the public at large is also plausible because of geographical limitations. Records then become the only way for academics and people to access these sites. Proportional and aesthetic relationships of historical sites can be replicated with Computer Aided Design. Drawings, point clouds and digital models can prove to be excellent tools for replicating these.

It’s true that visiting a space is not quite the same as viewing it on a computer screen, but use of technology can contribute immensely to conservation for research and educational purposes.

Pakistan has also previously struggled with both inappropriate restoration and destruction of various heritage sites. Several Gandharan-era artifacts and Stupas were destroyed by TTP during the previous wave of the insurgency in Pakistan. The Hingorani Mariyoon Mosque in Tando Fazal was rebuilt and whitewashed under “restoration” claims. The reconstruction at Sandeman Fort also became subject to criticism for ruining heritage. Recently, the Makli Necropolis in Sindh, one of the largest funerary sites in the world, was under floodwater.

Should Pakistan look towards Web 3.0 for heritage conservation, it can leverage emerging tech to position itself as a leader in the heritage-tech space five years from now. Not only will it fuel investment, excellent PR and soft power projection, it will help historicise our own people.

Present-day Pakistan is home to several civilisations and the cradle for powerful dynasties. Pakistan can and must claim the entirety of its history as its own. Acknowledging heritage is the first step towards building a society which is self-aware. Nations that fail to maintain and build digital identities risk slipping into oblivion in a digital world.

The lack of information about Pakistan, its communities, history and culture in the virtual world can and must be looked at as an existential threat. The vacuum of information leaves us susceptible to threats of disinformation from hostile powers, both internal and external.

Pakistan can explore several solutions in light of Web 3.0 technologies for conservation, curation and dissemination of information related to its cultural heritage. Besides nation building, it can serve as a tool for soft power projection on the global stage. This will allow Pakistan the leverage to market itself as a developing country eager to jump onto emerging tech.

A proactive approach needs to be adopted towards fostering international partnerships for cost-effective and environmentally sustainable heritage conservation. Partners can include universities, cultural institutions across the globe, museums and corporates working within the heritage-tech sector to map out detailed frameworks, developing technological solutions and viable investment models.

Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 08 March 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.


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