People of ACM - Karina Rodriguez

October 31, 2017

How would you explain the importance of computing and cultural heritage to someone who is unfamiliar with the field?

People tend to associate cultural heritage with the ancient past. However, I think cultural heritage is important because it can increase our understanding of different cultures in our society and around the world. The advancement of its study, preservation and communication presents many interesting challenges for computer scientists; computing technologies have the potential to create smart digital representations of cultural heritage, which can support scholars and professionals in the sector to generate new knowledge as well as to engage with a wider set of audiences.

For example, visualization technologies (such as virtual reality) can enable tourists to visualize hypothetical reconstructions of an archaeological site, while virtually interacting with the digital representations of objects excavated from the site in order to understand their use in the daily life of people who once lived there. The objects might, in reality, be located in different museums around the world, and the user could be directed to those places to learn more about them. Such a scenario requires solving different research challenges related to both the graphical aspects of the 3D reconstruction as well as to the understanding, organization and access of digital content from different content providers.

For computer scientists interested in this area like myself, cultural heritage is a stimulating application to conduct use-inspired basic research that has an important practical utility while not losing sight of advancing scientific understanding.

Do you think scholars in the humanities are taking full advantage of the latest computing technologies? What kind of computer training will humanities professionals need in the near future?

I think that humanities professionals need to continuously develop digital skills and improve their understanding of how computing technologies can support their research activities. As such, interdisciplinary research is a really important mechanism to cross-fertilize both disciplines and continue to develop computing technologies that can be applied to a variety of research questions in the humanities domain. Through these types of collaborations, scholars in humanities are starting to take full advantage of the latest technologies that are still being developed in the labs.

In the future, humanities professionals will have a wider range of digital skills, including imaging, documentation and visualization techniques, which will enable them to conduct their research using digital workflows.

What are some of the most exciting recent developments in the use of information and communication technologies in support of cultural heritage?

I think that the most exciting developments in information and communication technologies in support of cultural heritage focus on easing the task of recording, identifying, preserving and engaging people with cultural heritage. For example, novel image-based geometry reconstruction technologies are being developed to speed the generation of 3D representations by using collections of photos. This is an interesting development, as people increasingly make accessible photo collections that record the spaces in which they live and through which they move. In the future, heritage professionals will be able to automatically produce up-to-date digital representations of heritage assets in an easier and more effective manner using these technologies.

Machine learning technologies are also being developed to support the identification, classification and reconnection among museum artifacts, sites and landscapes from cultures across the world. Moreover, museum and gallery visitors as well as tourists will benefit from novel interactive technologies, including VR/AR and mixed reality, which will enable them to engage and connect with cultural heritage in more meaningful ways.

Finally, 3D printing and other novel digital fabrication technologies will enable creative industries to take advantage of heritage content for creative purposes. This will demonstrate the value of cultural heritage to a wider variety of sectors.

You were recently the Principal Investigator for a project of the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, aimed at developing automatic semantic analysis of 3D content in digital repositories. How did this project benefit humanities research?

The project focused on the development and application of technologies for the semantic understanding and access of 3D representations of material cultural heritage in digital repositories. The project engaged with a local partner in the UK that made available an architectural ornamental molding collection with designs from the 19th century Regency period in the UK.

The project benefited humanities research with the development of novel computational techniques to support the organization and discoverability of 3D content, taking advantage of the fact that heritage artifacts have been created throughout the centuries with distinctive design styles. Hence, we develop and shape retrieval methods to improve the automatic classification of the artifact’s semantic information based on its 3D shape. The project also produced a database of 3D architectural molding shapes, which are of interest to art historians and architects.

Finally, the project also conducted research on the creative reuse of 3D architectural molding shapes. This included the use of 3D printing technologies to support the conservation of historic buildings as well as to produce interactive applications for public dissemination.

Karina Rodriguez is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton (UK). Her research interests include the digitization, information management and visualization of heritage collections including artifacts and sites, semantic technologies, digital fabrication, and the practical aspects of deployment in the heritage sector. She serves in various international committees in these areas. Karina is Information Director and Associate Editor of the ACM Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage (JOCCH) which publishes papers in all areas relating to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in support of cultural heritage.