Throughout the last few years, there’s been a major trend in the museum industry with the expansion of spy museums! As a big fan of the occasional James Bond film, I was dying to visit the new Spyscape museum that opened in NYC in 2018. Unsurprisingly, the tickets were extremely hard to come by, even at the above average entrance fee of almost $40 per adult. I became fascinated with the unique experience that this museum offered, and upon further research, it’s evident that other spy museums have grown in popularity across other major cities as well. Museum goers boast about the interactive & individualized experience that these spy museums afford through their revolutionary use of digital technology. Some of these major advancements in digital elements are also pushing for further transformation across the wider museum industry. Here’s what you can expect from a visit to a spy museum!
First off, from the moment you enter, you can expect a completely customized experience using RFID technology. Upon arrival, the visitor is given a badge, wristband or some other ID tag, that they will carry with them throughout their visit. This badge will provide the visitor with a completely customized experience by tracking their movement throughout the museum. For example, at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC, users can select “Mission Impossible” or “Undercover Mission” experiences, which involves the selection of a specific spy identity that will dictate their experiences for the rest of their visit. Using this RFID technology, the user can scan their badge or wristband throughout the museum to access photos and videos related to their spy identity.
The Spyscape museum in NYC takes these spy identities even further, by providing various interactive spy related assessments throughout the visitor’s journey in the museum. One assessment includes encryption exercises at a large illuminated table, where users must both decipher & respond to a code. Another assessment on surveillance requires visitors to wear a headset and answer questions about activities and environment shown on a screen. One such activity even allows users to test out facial recognition software and lie detector testing. After each assessment, he visitor’s performance is scored, and the data is recorded on their badge. Check out the video below to see some of the assessments in action at Spyscape!
The scoring of each assessment is used in Spyscape’s algorithm that profiles visitors into a specific spy role type. Upon arriving at the Spyscape museum, the visitor will begin by taking a short personality test. Then, as they move through the museum, they use their wristband to track their activity and performance on the various assessments noted above. Using these various elements as inputs, Spyscape’s proprietary algorithm uses compares each individual against millions of others, and scores each visitor across a number of profile attributes. These attributes include elements like: level of risk tolerance, ability to handle stress, inquisitiveness, mental horsepower, etc. At the end of your visit to the museum, the algorithm will provide you with a one of ten spy profiles (see profile types in the image to the right). Additionally, as more visitors complete the assessment at Spyscape, the algorithm is updated to ensure accuracy in profile outcomes.
All in all, the technological advancements in spy museums around the world are quite cool, but the International Spy Museum in Washington DC takes the mental assessment one step further. They’ve added an element of debate and more thought-provoking engagement to their museum experience. Throughout the visit, museum goers not only interact with digital tools, but they also face provocative questions on controversial political topics. One question, for example, asks visitors their opinion of torture, and even more specifically, whether or not they support the use of torture for suspected terrorists. Furthermore, many spy museum encourage visitors to be more skeptical of their own digital security, warning about the ‘free wifi at your local coffee shop’, for example. These provocative questions encourage visitors to think beyond the digital technology, which I find to be another unique aspect of a visit to the spy museum.
With such a unique experience, it’s no secret why spy museums have become so popular in recent years; however there are a few other interesting components to the experience worth noting.
The first is of course the question of data privacy. With every visitor, quite a lot of data is collected and stored within the Spyscape’s system and algorithm. This data can be highly sensitive, it can highlight key personality traits and I suspect it can also highlight a linkage to those that your visiting the museum with. The Spyscape museum assures that they do not sell any data produced from your visit to the spy museum, but they do reserve the right to use aggregated and anonymized data to continuously improve the museum challenges. Seems reasonable, but what if there was a data breach!
The second element somewhat interesting element of these museums, is the level of historical detail provided surrounding intelligence failures. I mentioned above the provocative questioning to museum goers at The International Spy Museum. Throughout their exhibits, they also highlight some of the biggest fails in America’s history of spying. For example, one room is devoted to Snowden’s part in leaking several documents to journalists. Additionally, another exhibit room includes failures related to the containment weapons of mass disruption in Iraq. Lastly, this museum also celebrates the wins – including one exhibit which brings to life the work of CIA intelligence analysts in their search for bin Laden after the attacks of 9/11. The International Spy Museum is committed to showing both positive and negative aspects of the not-so-secret spy world.
Overall, the interactive and hands on experience that spy museums provide is super unique, thanks to the power of digital technology. I’m dying to visit these museums the next time I’m in NYC or DC. Has anyone ever had the chance to experience these first hand? If so, are they as cool in person as I’ve described above?