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Bygone Times in Real Time
Artificial intelligence uses social media content to unveil two centuries of world heritage

On the occasion of the Fête des Vignerons, the EPFL+ECAL Lab joins forces with the Swiss Camera Museum in Vevey, the Archives of the RTS Swiss broadcasting corporation, the dedicated serie by and the Confrérie des Vignerons to offer an unparalleled exploration of the world of images. Thanks to artificial intelligence, today's images, posted on social networks, awaken two centuries of world heritage. The public can discover and test this experimental installation at the Museum during the Fête.

Temps Passé, Temps Réel (Picture: Daniela & Tonatiuh / EPFL+ECAL Lab)

As soon as you enter, the installation challenges certainties: the images found on social networks have become actual cards. They take on a material dimension in the visitor's hand. Placed on a lit plate, they trigger the display of a collection of old images on an immersive screen, taking viewers back to the 18th century. Good old photos witnessing bygone times have become digital. Visitors can watch them, scroll through them. A physical present, a digital past: the set-up questions our relationship to time, credibility and materiality.

The combination of these documents of very different origins is based on artificial intelligence – so-called deep learning techniques. But rather than restricting the results to users' expectations or targeted marketing purposes, as Internet recommendation algorithms usually do, the device aims to foster discovery to build bridges between past times and real time. To counter the obscurantism of algorithms, it reveals what the machine recognises in the images and therefore how it associates them. The user can actually understand how the installation allows us to go back to the origins of the Fête in 1797.

This work continues the exploration conducted by the EPFL+ECAL Lab for a decade on the enhancement of heritage: millions of documents are now digitised and saved, but how do you bring them back to life? How can they elicit interest beyond specialist circles? This endeavour is receiving worldwide attention at the start of this summer, as four EPFL+ECAL Lab projects are operating in prestigious venues: Nina, the vehicle travelling through the audiovisual heritage of the Montreux Jazz Festival, has taken centre stage at the Festival itself; Archives in Motion reveals the spectrum of the work of Roger Tallon, designer of the TGV among others, at the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris; Chronogram expresses 265 years of Swiss watchmaking in New York and, as of 18 July, Temps Passé, Temps Réel is unveiled at the Camera Museum in Vevey. This series of installations open to the general public has made it possible to develop scientific and practical knowledge thanks to the new design principles established by the EPFL+ECAL Lab. These findings have now reached international recognition, as they have been also published by the magazine Leonardo-MIT Press.

As with its other projects, the EPFL+ECAL Lab will turn to experts in interface psychology to observe the impact of Temps Passé, Temps Réel. The objective is to find out how this proposal may go beyond the attraction of fun and technical performance to generate new and sustainable practices. The resulting knowledge will help to determine how to enhance the cultural and social wealth tucked away in huge man-made databases.

Useful Information

Opening hours
18 July to 11 August 2019, from 11am to 8pm

Musée suisse de l’appareil photographique
Grande Place 99, Vevey

Free entrance

Public opening in the presence of the EPFL+ECAL Lab’s team
Wednesday 17 July, from 5pm to 8pm
Thursday 18 July, from 5pm to 8pm

Press previews 
Wednesday 17 July, from 11am to 12am
Thursday 18 July, from 3pm to 8pm
Please confirm your presence at

Press contact:

Press kit (Images)
Press release (EN)
Communiqué de presse (FR)
Pressemitteilung (DE)

Project Direction: Nicolas Henchoz
Project Management: Lara Défayes
MAS in Design Research for Digital Innovation: Hélène Portier

Interaction Design: Hélène Portier in cooperation with Lara Défayes
Software engineering: Delphine Ribes & Yves Kalberer
Hardware & firmware engineering: Cédric Duchêne

Scenography: Matthieu Girel 

UI/UX Psychologist: Andreas Sonderegger
Consulting Architect: Ruben Valdez

Photography: Daniela & Tonatiuh / EPFL+ECAL Lab