#DigiWomenKA: Sonja Thiel

By Katharina Iyen

Female role models are important. They show possibilities, they help to define your own goals and we can learn from your experiences. In our blog series #DigiWomenKA, Katharina Iyen meets one such role model from the Karlsruhe digital sector once a month to find out more about them, their experiences and their commitment. Today she talks to Sonja Thiel, Project Manager AI & Museum / Creative User Empowerment at the Badisches Landesmuseum.

I meet DigiWomanKA Sonja Thiel in the Badisches Landesmuseum – more precisely in the foyer of Karlsruhe Palace, which houses the museum. Relaxed, she comes strolling down the monumental staircase at 2 p.m. sharp and greets me with a hearty laugh. As this Friday is so wonderfully sunny and mild, we grab a coffee and chai latte to take a mint and sit down for the interview on the steps in front of the Landesmuseum – many other sun-hungry Karlsruhe residents do the same.

We We first have a lively conversation about the possibilities of artificial intelligence. Intelligence. “Imagine if I could use AI to write my blog posts I say enthusiastically. Sonja nods in agreement. “This is a exciting opportunity. Let’s take a section of this blog post from ChatGPT and see how well it works and what it means for us.” We decide to risk the experiment and are eagerly awaiting the result. While we wait for the answer from Chat GPT, We sit back and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere in front of the castle.

Digital Catalyst for Artificial Intelligence – a job with many facets

Current Sonja Thiel works as a digital catalyst for artificial intelligence and Project manager of “Creative User Empowerment” at the Badisches Landesmuseum. In Cooperation with Allard Pierson, the museum of the University of Amsterdam, she is developing a tool that facilitates the curation of museum content with the help of supported by artificial intelligence. The project will be completed at the end of 2023 with a corresponding software product.

“The The Creative User Empowerment project focuses primarily on the Empowerment of users in dealing with digital collections and on the co-designing artificial intelligence,” my colleague explains to me. Interview partner. After all, an important basic idea of the project is that AI should benefit people. The way in which the technology is to be defined by the users themselves.

She describes her work in more detail for me: “I am not a classic curator in the physical exhibition sector. Ultimately, I do development. For me, it’s about making information accessible and developing it, taking into account how people search and find things and what their individual interests are. That’s basically the starting point.” That’s why Sonja Thiel works mainly with metadata on museum objects, such as digital images and texts, and in exchange with user groups and developers.

Sonja Thiel enjoys the sunny day with author Katharina Iyen during an interview in front of the Badisches Landesmuseum. Photo: Katharina Iyen.
Sonja Thiel enjoys the sunny day with author Katharina Iyen during an interview in front of the Badisches Landesmuseum. Photo: Katharina Iyen

From history to future technology

The project manager was born and grew up near Ulm. Her studies in history and philosophy led her via Leipzig to Berlin. She completed her Master’s degree in Philosophy and Modern and Contemporary History in the capital.
She was originally interested in the culture of remembrance and working at memorial sites and with contemporary witnesses. She therefore completed her FSJ in the Netherlands, at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. She later moved into the field of participatory exhibition development. At the Historisches Museum Frankfurt, Thiel experimented with how a broader public can participate in the storytelling of a city and how Frankfurt can be told and understood.
As a research assistant at the University of Freiburg, she was the coordinator for the blended learning program museOn, a program for continuing academic education.

Providing, making accessible and negotiating culture are very close to Thiel’s heart. “The question of which culture we create and live is linked to our knowledge and horizons and also to the access we have to the past.” Current project deals with the question of how the future technology of artificial intelligence should be understood and used and who is qualified to use it. actively and consciously. At the same time, it takes a look at the Tension between AI-generated online content versus scientific content sound research. For the researcher, the question of the quality and the benefits of AI-generated content and how we can use it in the future. are in a position to assess these.

“Culture can build bridges between research, tech and the public and create a Create a space in which we can learn from and with each other – but the use of technology can also be discussed and shaped. One free society needs the ability to engage in discourse, to endure different positions and the resulting negotiations.”

Access to education is crucial

A The cornerstone of Thiel’s work is to improve access to education and knowledge. facilitate. Its focus is on participation in and accessibility to (digital) learning spaces. The AI project manager is driven by the question of educational equity. She wants to break down barriers, combine analog and digital Provide exchange spaces for trying things out and experimenting. People in and also the visualization of these very spaces is an important important driver for them. This could promote equity in education.

Yours own field of activity, culture, is just one example of the fact that in There is still room for improvement in terms of justice: “The opportunities for women* are still not the same,” she notes. When it comes to diversity, the However, the cultural sector in general is still not well positioned. In addition, the cultural sector is chronically underfunded, which, according to Thiel, requires a lot of intrinsic motivation: “Learning from each other and common goals are my Motor. Others often perceive me as a well-connected and communicative person. That always makes me happy.”

Sonja Thiel and author Katharina Iyen enjoyed the view of the fan-shaped city together from the castle tower. Photo: Katharina Iyen
Sonja Thiel and author Katharina Iyen enjoyed the view of the fan-shaped city together from the castle tower. Photo: Katharina Iyen

Karlsruhe, so private and so beautiful

I would like to know from Sonja Thiel how she perceives the city of Karlsruhe and which opportunities she sees here for herself and her work. “I like Karlsruhe, came here during the Corona period and have therefore seen it as a private, reclusive city,” he says with a smile. “Me but is interested in its history as an administrative and planned city and the Effects through the various universities and art colleges.”

Especially The digital location has taken a liking to her: “The networking of research, IT and culture make Karlsruhe a very attractive place with great Future potential.” She also really likes the high quality of life the surrounding nature and the abundance of greenery, the proximity to France and the Black Forest.

After our conversation as we climb up the castle tower together, where in the middle of the spiral staircase also branches off the door to Thiel’s office, I immediately know what they says: Once at the top, we marvel at the beautiful panorama. And even when Sonja Thiel says goodbye and goes back to her office in the castle tower, I stay for a while. and enjoy the view of the private, but also very beautiful fan-shaped city.

One section is written by Chat GPT 4. I simply shortened and adapted it a little. The resolution can be found in the following picture. Perhaps you have already noticed it while reading?

Courtesy of Chat GPT 4, powered by Bing.
Courtesy of Chat GPT 4, powered by Bing.