Digital technology has advanced remarkably in the last several years,
and the future holds the possibility of even more startling developments.
The Semantic Web could transform the World Wide Web into a global
database whose content is meaningful to both people and computers.
Autonomic computers could learn to run themselves. Holographic storage
could allow laser beams to be used to store computer-generated data
in three dimensions and exponentially increase storage capacity.
Automated policy-based management algorithms could make the administration
of digital image collections, and indeed of almost all aspects of
life, less arduous and more efficient.
However, these and many other possibilities will not come into being
unless they are able to handle heterogeneity and change: the diverse
platforms, operating systems, devices, software, formats, and schemas
that exist in today's networked environment. Perhaps paradoxically,
the best way of achieving this is through the application of open
standards, not so much to remove heterogeneitythough there will
certainly be an element of thatbut to navigate intelligently through
it, or perhaps to provide intelligent translation between heterogeneous
elements. The consistent application of standards will be an essential
component of advances in integration technology that might bring
into being some form of the "information fusion" that the more romantic
among us expect from scientific advance. At the very least, we can
hope for assimilation of the functions of the myriad management systems
offered today (document management, image management, digital asset
management, media asset management, content management, library management,
and so on) into more unified systems. More immediately, documentation
standards for images must be refined and consensus built around such
issues as the range of data elements that constitute a minimal image
description, the most effective data structure, and so forth.
There are a number of other issues that also require further research,
such as the development and adoption of accepted strategies for preservation
repositories. Technologies affecting Web accessibility, such as bandwidth
and wireless transmission, will continue to be an issue if the Web
is to become truly global. Delivery technology that is sensitive
to the client environment (display capabilities, decompression software/
hardware, etc.) might only send images with a dynamic range within
a client workstation's display capability or might only send compressed
images in formats the client workstation is capable of decompressing.
To achieve this, image servers would need to receive descriptions
of client workstations in a standard way so that only meaningful
information would be transferred to a user's workstation. Issues
of intellectual property on the Web are also being constantly contested,
and generally accepted standards of what is and what is not permissible
have yet to emerge.
Digital imaging has already provided wider access to the world's
cultural heritage than ever before: images and metadata can be distributed
over worldwide or local networks and can be used for many different
purposes, from enhancement of scholarship and teaching to personal
exploration and enjoyment. The potential for developing new audiences
and broadening cultural appreciation is far-reaching. In order to
take full advantage of these opportunities, however, digital image
collections must be constructed to remain relevant and accessible
beyond a single, short-term project. Careful choices in technology
and the use of shared technical and descriptive standards will make
it possible to exchange information among databases and across networks
and promote collaboration and resource sharing. Standards-driven
approaches will ensure that all cultural heritage institutions can
participate fully in the creation of the universal virtual museum.