|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Re: [Hangout - NYLXS] AI in aritfact idententification (and coins)
|On 12/7/21 17:01, Ruben Safir wrote:
Can the NEXUD AI App Really Detect Illicit Cultural Objects? - CoinsWeekly
Can AI detect illicitly traded art objects? The NEXUD project, funded
with a €600,000 grant by German authorities, wants to enable police and
customs detect such objects. But AI will not be able to see if an object
is fake, if it has been traded since hundred years, and how the current
legal situation deals with it. So, much money wasted?
Germany’s federal authorities have announced a €600,000 grant to NEXUD,
a follow-up project to the ILLICID study. The NEXUD project is intended
to find uses for and expand the capabilities of an image recognition app
designed for use by police and customs and a webcrawler program. NEXUD
follows on the ILLICID project, funded by the German government in 2015
with €1.2 million. The new project was announced by Prof. Dr. Markus
Hilgert, an archaeologist and general secretary of the Cultural
Foundation of the German Federal States in Berlin, which will lead the
project. Dr. Hilgert headed the earlier ILLICID project as well.
Hilgert says the NEXUD project will enable authorities to identify
whether an object may have been illegally looted or taken from an
archaeological site using photographs analyzed by an artificial
intelligence computer program. The criteria for such a determination
will be submitted by “several dozen experts,” according to Dr. Hilgert.
However, what image recognition programs do is identify similar objects
by their appearance, not tell their age or when they were found.
With sufficiently accurate and detailed data, image recognition and AI
should be able to link image “types” to a range of potential countries
of origin and to a database of those countries’ laws. However,
connecting countries of possible origin to laws cannot tell anyone
whether an object was looted yesterday or legally sold before the laws
were enacted, or if it came into circulation 100, 300 or 500 years ago.
Every country today has different heritage laws, created at different
dates and enforced at different levels.
Determining an object’s legal status requires knowing its history of
ownership and trade. The global extent of trade and the fact that
ancient cultures did not exist within today’s geopolitical boundaries
makes the determination of an object’s legal status even more challenging.
The NEXUD visual recognition program appears more likely to reinforce
the erroneous idea that a machine can do a better job than an art
historian and to promote the idea that most antiquities in circulation
are unlawful. Since its developer says it will not be able to identify
fakes, it is useless for that as well.
Is the NEXUD project actually going to benefit anyone? Wouldn’t
educational programs for law enforcement have far greater capacity to
increase their expertise – and provide them with more nuanced and valid
answers to questions about illicit trade?
As British Museum expert St John Simpson, who assists UK authorities to
identify illicit antiquities, told CPN in 2020:
“We’ve been shown images of objects by individuals and organizations
where there was good reason to think that these objects were in Syria or
had been recently exported from Syria but in every single case when I
sat down with somebody and looked at these images they were all fake.
The level of disappointment for law enforcement is quite palpable.
You’ve got these very serious people hoping to press charges and we say
actually all we can tell you is that it’s not genuine. It’s not worth
any money, and there is no income stream coming from it.”
Media Fails to Examine the Project’s Likely Results
Art trade organizations and museums condemn looting. Policy makers that
support museums say the same. But there are compelling arguments that
data is misused and false stories promoted on illicit trade that are
harmful not only to the legitimate art trade but to a public interest in
the legal circulation of art.
A recent article in The Art Newspaper, How do you spot a looted antique?
Germany brings in team of experts to help, announced the NEXUD project
without raising the most pressing questions about its purpose, its
ability to deliver valid results, or the underlying policy agenda it
A response to the article by Vincent Geerling, Chairman of the
International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) was also
published in the print Art Newspaper, but is unavailable online. With
Mr. Geerling’s permission, CPN reproduces it in full:
“The German government awarding a €600,000 grant to follow up the €1.2m
ILLICID project relating to illicit antiquities raises more questions
than it answers. Both projects are connected to the very restrictive
German Cultural Property law passed in 2016, aimed at fighting against
Germany’s status as an “El Dorado of the illegal cultural artifacts
trade”, as claimed by Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in
2014. ILLICID launched on the assumption that “profits from illicit
trade in cultural goods are an important pillar of organized crime”,
while in the same sentence acknowledged that no reliable data existed to
show this. In other words, it had come to a conclusion even before
investigating. Neither ILLICID nor the German government has ever shown
any evidence to support these claims.
At the time, I called the law ‘a solution looking for a problem’. Well,
five years later, the problem still has not been found, and soon the law
will be evaluated.
From Culture Minister Monika Grütters’ comments that the NEXUD project
will provide ‘reliable answers from the academic community’, it seems
clear that market experts will not be involved, yet they handle far more
objects than academics so are mostly in a better position to assess
them. The trade has offered to help with this, but so far has received
no official response.
The Image-recognition software (already funded by the German government
to the tune of €500,000) cannot detect fakes or illicit items, so alerts
will depend on the team of experts. Will they be vetting everything
offered for sale, and how will they limit the ‘web crawlers’ to the
German market? With all this, how can their reaction be ‘swift’ as
described? If not, what’s the point of this exercise?
Dr. Hilgert, who will lead the project after heading ILLICID, is quoted
as saying that trade is six times what he previously thought. Is that
illicit trade, legitimate trade or web-based trade, as the article does
not say? The article quotes him as saying that the ILLICID report’s main
findings were that available information is ‘inadequate to ascertain
whether items offered [on the internet] for sale are being traded
legally or illegally’. If so, on what did he base his new figure, and
what is it in absolute rather than comparative terms?
The only reliable data on the scale of the problem of illicit trade in
cultural property in Germany comes from the German government itself. In
official answers to parliamentary questions on March 2, 2021, it stated
that from the introduction of the Cultural Property Act on August 6,
2016 until the end of June 2020, Germany made a total of 61 cultural
property seizures on suspicion of import or export violations – 15 a
year on average across the whole of Germany’s 16 states.
As far as we know, not a single case of terror financing has been found.
However, as cases are investigated at state rather than federal level,
the government says it has no idea of the outcomes.
By any measure, this is not a huge problem, so why throw so much money
and resources at it?
Three simple questions:
How many items among the 356,500 ILLICID studied were conclusively
looted and trafficked? As far as I know, this has never been answered.
How many of the 61 seizures investigated across four years proved to
How many cases of terrorist financing (finding this out is one of
the main goals of the German law) have been uncovered in the past five
Surely these and other questions regarding methodology, technology and
expertise should be answered before committing significant sums to yet
another project of this type?
Meanwhile, despite it knowing since last October that the figure was
false, UNESCO continues to promote the value of illicit trade in
antiquities as $10 billion a year as part of its equally bogus
advertising campaign, The Real Price of Art. The fictional $10 billion
number is oft-quoted to justify clamping down on legitimate trade,
appearing in numerous media and academic articles even as I write.”
Vincent Geerling, Chairman of the International Association of Dealers
in Ancient Art (IADAA)
How Is ILLICID Being Misused? In Drafting a New UNESCO International
Code of Ethics for Dealers and in the EU Action Plan on Trafficking in
Regrettably, the data from the ILLICID project appears to be used most
today to misrepresent the extent of the illicit trade in antiquities.
This is not just misleading, but harmful, because exaggerations about
the extent of the trade misdirect resources that could better be used to
preserve heritage at risk. And, as noted above, linking inaccurate data
about the art trade with false claims about terrorism has resulted in
unnecessary and burdensome EU legislation.
Few observers appear to be reading ILLICID accurately. A number of
speakers at a September 14 UNESCO conference, “The Fight against the
illicit trafficking of cultural property: for a strengthened global
dialogue” repeated erroneous interpretations of data from the ILLICID
project. Margaritis Schinas, Vice President of the European Commission,
said it showed that 98% of the ancient objects in trade were “illicit.”
These misstatements appear to be a factor in drafting forthcoming EU
policies, notably revisions to the EU’s 1999 International Code of
Ethics for Dealers in Cultural Property and the mysterious but allegedly
comprehensive EU Action Plan on Trafficking in Cultural Goods – in which
the antiquities trade organizations have been completely shut out from
consultations and development. Despite requesting to participate, the
art trade has been excluded from EU planning that will directly affect
their industry, just as they were not invited to participate in the
September 14 UNESCO Conference that was advertised as bringing all
parties into the discussion.
What the ILLICID study actually concluded was that in all but 2% of
cases, there was not enough provenance information available on the
items being offered for sale to meet the documentary requirements for
importation under the strict requirements of the new German law. Markus
Hilgert stated as much in the Art Newspaper:
“The main findings of our ILLICID report were that the information
available on the internet is inadequate to ascertain whether items
offered for sale are being traded legally or illegally.”
However, documentation of provenance is not typically published in
advertisements on the Internet. The UNESCO speakers reversed Hilgert’s
statement to interpret the absence of documentation as proof of illegality.
Again, an illuminating quote from St John Simpson in 2020 below shows
how the ILLICID data raises a completely different question – do its
results complement other evidence showing that looted antiquities are
not coming to the West when compared to the first Iraq war:
“The key fact about the ILLICID report is that out of the sample of the
356,500 objects that they say they looked at, only 0.1% were identified
by them as genuine pieces from Syria or Iraq. That is very telling. I
think it implies that there is a considerable amount of hyperbole about
the volume of trafficking from those countries at least, even though
there has sadly been a lot of destruction across the country. That
hyperbole is something that we’ve seen in a lot of press stories over
the last few years. Compare that to the fact that in the last nine
years, we’ve not seen a single antiquity entering Britain or passing
through Britain from Daesh-controlled areas of either Syria or Iraq.”
“That’s despite the fact that the UK is a major transport hub and there
has been very high-risk profiling of individuals and freight from
Daesh-controlled areas. We have also yet to see any objects on the
market which we can show might have been stolen from the Mosul Museum in
“I think that the absence of any such objects that we can demonstrably
prove comes from these past nine years of conflict is very telling. It’s
in complete contrast to the decade-long period from 1993-94 to 2003-2004
in Iraq where the satellite imagery of the ground matched the market
picture. At that time there was organized looting of sites known to
produce cuneiform tablets, glass, seals, coins, bullae and those sorts
of things and we had huge quantities of those things on the market.
That’s also a period when there was looting at museums and museum pieces
were identified on the market. So in Iraq, in that decade, there was a
complete match between the different data sets, whereas in Syria and
northern Iraq in the last 8 years there’s a complete mismatch. That is
something that needs to be better analyzed and explained. And I think
that’s where future scrutiny ought to lie.”
What Did the €1.2 Million ILLICID Find Out About Illicit Trafficking and
How did ILLICID fulfill its original goals and what are the expectations
of this new project? According to the initial UNESCO announcement of the
“The plan is to develop new analytical instruments and research
approaches to better identify trafficking networks and processes and to
better understand financial flows in the field of organized crime and
terrorism, as well as to develop a digital object depository to be used
by law enforcement and customs authorities.”
The project analyzed 356,500 items appearing in online art, coin, and
other auctions of cultural materials between July 2015 and June 2017.
The initial target area of war-torn Syria and Iraq was expanded to
Ancient Cultural Objects from the Eastern Mediterranean (AKOM). What did
the researchers find?
There were 6,133 AKOM items online out of the more than 350,000 total,
approximately 1.7% of the total from Syria, Iraq, Greece, Turkey, Egypt,
Cyprus or other eastern Mediterranean countries.
Of these 6,133 “relevant objects” found, the data indicated that
only 24% of the “potentially” Syrian or Iraqi items were unquestionably
authentic, 61.5% had insufficient information to tell, 12% were
suspected fakes, and 2% were incorrectly classified.
71%, of items and lots started at under €1000 (10% at under €100).
Higher value items were largely Greek and Roman. Only 52.9% of items
sold at all.
Of the 6,133 Eastern Mediterranean items, ILLICID identified 2,387
as “potentially” Syrian or Iraqi; of these, only 853 were offered as
ILLICID found no links at all to financing of terrorism or organized
What ILLICID did find, in the end, was that there are significant
numbers of objects representing the detritus of civilizations and the
leftovers of the bazaar that are still in circulation – objects that
museums and galleries do not need or want but that appeal to a market
that values them for their age and history.
The Internet is an excellent way for legitimate art and antiquities
sellers with brick and mortar galleries to reach new customers, and as
reputable dealers use it, the Internet can promote transparency and
accountability by making the objects offered visible to the world.
However, ILLICID also demonstrated that the supposedly extensive illicit
market in recent Middle Eastern antiquities on the Internet is really a
tool for the fraudulent sale of fakes to the unsuspecting and
ill-informed. That is useful information from ILLICID, because although
most people in the art world knew it already, it’s nice to have it proven.
So many immigrant groups have swept through our town
that Brooklyn, like Atlantis, reaches mythological
proportions in the mind of the world - RI Safir 1998
DRM is THEFT - We are the STAKEHOLDERS - RI Safir 2002
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