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Culture is not the first aspect that comes to mind when discussing how humans interact with technology. But our cultural upbringing does to a large degree influence our patterns of behavior and interpretation. Thus, culture is present in the development of technology right from the start, unconsciously influencing how devices look, what we envision with them to do, and how they are programmed to interact with the user. Thus, culture significantly shapes how we interact with each other and with other social entities such e.g. robots, and a better understanding of cultural factors will have significant scientific, design, and societal implications. The main focus is on understanding the influence of culture on many human processes that affect how humans create and use technology, be it directly or indirectly. Culture aware technology can thus be defined as technology, where culture-related information has had some impact on its design, runtime or internal processes, structures, and/or objectives.

We are engaged in a number of different projects that look at such cultural factors from different perspectives, ranging from the design and use of social robots to indigenous knowledge management in sub-saharan contexts.


Indigenous Knowledge Technology
The purpose of the IK management system is to create a digital platform where the village elders can represent and share their knowledge in a meaningful way to them and the youth, who have migrated to urban areas. In a early phase of the project, co-researchers as well as community members have captured rich multimedia recordings of indigenous practices, which they considered to be relevant. Attempts of mapping local communication and thought patterns have guided design sessions and past prototype implementations and evaluations. We are currently exploring a number of design directions, one of them being the co-design of a 3D scenario-based visualization of the village to create a virtual context for the multimedia videos, another being a ubiquitous storytelling tool.

Formal Ontology engineering for Culturally-Aware technoLogies (FOCAL)
The era of globalization has seen an increase in immigration and communication amongst people from diverse cultures. Issues of miscommunication or friction resulting from cultural differences are of growing interest to technologists, which has led to the emergence of a research field on culturally-aware technology. A “culturally-aware system” refers to any system where culture-related information has had some impact on its design, run time or internal processes, structures, and/or objectives. Cultural knowledge bases are mandatory for developing culturally-aware technologies. However, existing repositories of cultural information are not easy to use, and frequently refer to a limited set of very specific problems or domains. It is thus extremely difficult for designers and developers of culturally-aware systems to access cultural information of good quality related to the specific issues they want to address in their project.

CUlture-adaptive BEhavior Generation (CUBE-G)
The verbal and non-verbal behavior of embodied conversational agents (ECAs) becomes more and more sophisticated. But this behavior is primarily based on a Western cultural background due to the available agent systems and their predefined animation sequences. But according to Ting-Toomey (1999) the most profound misunderstandings in face-to-face communication arise due to misinterpretations of non-verbal cues. Thus, culture-adaptive behavior in embodied agents can further cross-cultural communication in two ways. (1) Employing an agent that adheres to culturally determined behavior programs will enhance the efficiency of information delivery. (2) Agents capable of changing their cultural programs can serve as embarrassment-free coaching devices of culture-specific behaviors.
Based on a theory of cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 2001), we investigate in this DFG-funded interdisciplinary project whether and how the non-verbal behavior of agents can be generated from a parameterized computational model, i.e. it will no longer be necessary to develop a new agent for each culture but specifying a culture's position on the basic dimensions will allow the system to generate appropriate non-verbal behaviors for the agents. The project combines a top-down model-based approach with a bottom-up corpus-based approach which allows to empirically ground the model in the specific behavior of two cultures (Japanese and German).


Mobiscool: 1st Workshop on Mobile, Social and Culturally Oriented Learning (Mobile HCI 2015)
There are two simultaneous transformative changes occuring in Education: the use of mobile and tablet devices for accessing educational content, and the rise of the MOOCs. Happening independently and in parallel are significant advances in interaction technologies through smartphones and tablets, and the rise in the use of social-media and social-network analytics in several domains. Given the extent of personal context that is available on the mobile device, how can the education experience be personalised, made social, and tailored to the cultural context of the learner? The goal of this proposal is twofold: (a) To understand the usage, and student behaviour in this new environment (MOOCS and mobile devices) and (b) To design experiments and implement them to make these new tools more effective by tailoring them to the individual student’s personal, social and cultural settings and preferences.

The City's Intangible Cultural Heritage (Special Session on Culture and Computing 2015)
The session departs from the new research direction of smart city learning that adds a new human-centered perspective to the so far functionalist vision of smart cities. The smart city learning approach does not address learning only as a way to train an adequate human capital but instead envisions learning as one of the driving forces of the smartness and well-being of a community. Unavoidably the underlying and ubiquitous techno-ecosystems - whose embedded intelligence, sensitivity and responsiveness surround the individuals - challenge the future of learning and call for a redefinition of spaces, contents, processes, skills and assessment approaches. In relation to this general idea, the organized session is going to focus on a specific aspect of this challenge: how to capture, represent, and disseminate the intangible cultural heritage of a city. In contrast to tangible cultural heritage (buildings, sites etc.), intangible cultural heritage focuses on cultural practices. The intangible cultural heritage of the city can thus be seen as something constituted by the inhabitants of the city in their daily living routines, giving meaning to places found in the city. This “meaning making” is subject to constant changes, some subtle, some more drastic (e.g. structural changes when a city loses its industrial traditions). For this special session we invite contributions that focus on how this intangible heritage of the city (and thus its inhabitants) can be captured, represented, and disseminated in order to learn about (historical or modern) practices in relation to the actual urban scape.

Culture Aware Robotics (CARs)
CARs is a workshop series started in 2014 on HRI and AAMAS. The next workshop will be held at ICSR 2015. The workshops aim at improving awareness on the topic and facilitates communication among researchers from different cultures and those interested in culture as a factor in interacting with robots. The scientific focus of the activity is directed to culturally-aware robotics, which refers to a brand-new area in social robotics and human robot interaction and is closely related to the emergence of the field of culture aware computing in computer science and related disciplines. The main focus is on understanding the influence of culture on many human processes that affect human-robot interactions be it directly or indirectly. Culture aware robots can thus be defined as robotic systems, where culture-related information has had some impact on its design, runtime or internal processes, structures, and/or objectives.

Collaborations (Selection)

  • Heike Winschiers-Theophilus, Technical University of Namibia
  • Riichiro Mizoguchi, Osaka University, Japan
  • Seiji Isotani, University of Sao Paolo, Brazil
  • Emmanuel Blanchard, IDÛ Interactive Inc., Canada
  • Birgit Lugrin, University of Wuerzburg, Germany
  • Toyoaki Nishida, Kyoto University, Japan
  • Yukiko Nakano, Seikei University, Japan
  • Tomoko Koda, Osaka Institute of Technology, Japan

Related Publications

Rehm, M., & Rodil, K. (in press). Introducing the Tripartite Digitization Model for Engaging with the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the City. In Proceedings of the 5th EAI International Conference ArtsIT, Interactivity & Game Creation. Springer.

Damgård, M., Nielsen, E., van Heijster, S., Rodil, K., & Rehm, M. (2016). Preserving Heritage Through Technology in a City Undergoing Change. In Culture and Computing. IEEE Computer Society Press, 183-186.

Nanavati, A. A., Rajput, N., Turunen, M., Knoche, H., & Rehm, M. (2015). Mobiscool: 1st Workshop on Mobile, Social and Culturally Oriented Learning. In Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services Adjunct. (pp. 1187-1190). New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery.

Rodil, K., & Rehm, M. (2015). A decade later: looking at the past while sketching the future of ICH through the Tripartite Digitisation Model. International Journal of Intangible Heritage, vol. 10, 47-60.

Rodil, K., Winschiers-Theophilus, H., Stanley, C., Kapuire, G. K., & Rehm, M.(2014). An Approach to User Interface Design with Two Indigenous Groups in Namibia. In Proceedings of OzCHI 2014: Designing Futures: The future of Design. Association for Computing Machinery.

Krogsager, A., Pedersen, N., & Rehm, M. (2014). Backchannel Head Nods in Danish First Meeting Encounters with a Humanoid Robot: The Role of Physical Embodiment. In HCI International 2014. (pp. 651-662).Springer.

Pedersen, N., Krogsager, A., Jensen, D. G., & Rehm, M. (2014). The Role of Physical Embodiment of Humanoid Robot Interaction: Focusing on Backchannel Head Nods in Danish First Meeting Encounters. In HCI International 2014. (pp. 583-587).Springer.

Endrass, B., André, E., Rehm, M., & Nakano, Y. (2013). Investigating Culture-related Aspects of Behavior for Virtual Characters. Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems, 27(2), 277-304. 10.1007/s10458-012-9218-5

Rehm, M. (2013). From multicultural agents to culture-aware robots (Best Paper Award). In M. Kurosu (Ed.), Human-Computer Interaction. Human-Centred Design Approaches, Methods, Tools, and Environments: 15th International Conference, HCI International 2013, Las Vegas, NV, USA, July 21-26, 2013, Proceedings, Part III. (pp. 431-440). Springer Publishing Company. (Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS)). 10.1007/978-3-642-39232-0_47

Rodil, K., Rehm, M., & Winschiers-Theophilus, H. (2013). HomesteadCreator: Using card sorting in search for culture-aware categorizations of interface objects. In P. Kotze, G. Marsden, G. Lindgaard, J. Wesson, & M. Winkler (Eds.), Human-Computer Interaction – INTERACT 2013. (Vol. 8117, pp. 437-444). Springer Berlin Heidelberg: Springer Publishing Company. (Lecture Notes in Computer Science). 10.1007/978-3-642-40483-2_30

Rodil, K., Løvborg Jensen, K., Rehm, M., & Winschiers-Theophilus, H. (2013). Identifying and Representing Elements of Local Contexts in Namibia. In M. Kurosu (Ed.), Proceedings of 15th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction. (Vol. 8006, pp. 332-341). Springer Berlin Heidelberg: Springer Publishing Company. (Lecture Notes in Computer Science). 10.1007/978-3-642-39265-8_37

Rehm, M. (2012). Experimental designs for cross-cultural interactions: A case study on affective body movements for HRI. In Proceedings of the 2012 12th IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots (Humanoids). (pp. 78-83). IEEE Computer Society Press. (IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots). 10.1109/HUMANOIDS.2012.6651502

Rehm, M., & Leichtenstern, K. (2012). Gesture-based mobile training of intercultural behavior. Multimedia Systems, 18(1), 33-51. 10.1007/s00530-011-0239-8

Rehm, M., Nakano, Y., Koda, T., & Winschiers-Theophilus, H. (2012). Culturally Aware Agent Communication. In M. Zacharias, & J. V. de Oliveira (Eds.), Human-Computer Interaction: The Agency Perspective. (pp. 411-436). Springer. (Studies in Computational Intelligence, Vol. 396). 10.1007/978-3-642-25691-2_18

Rodil, K., Eskildsen, S., Morrison, A., Rehm, M., & Winschiers-Theophilus, H. (2012). Unlocking good design does not rely on designers alone. Paper presented at ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Austin, United States.

Rodil, K., Winschiers-Theophilus, H., Jensen, K. L., & Rehm, M. (2012). Homestead Creator: a tool for indigenous designers. In NordiCHI '12: Proceedings of the 7th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Making Sense Through Design . (Vol. 2012, pp. 627-630). Association for Computing Machinery. 10.1145/2399016.2399111

Bidwell, N. J., Winschiers-Theophilus, H., Kapuire, G. K., & Rehm, M. (2011). Pushing Personhood into Place: Situating Media in the Transfer of Rural Knowledge in Africa. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 69(10), 618-631. 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2011.02.002

Endrass, B., André, E., Rehm, M., Lipi, A. A., & Nakano, Y. (2011). Culture-related differences in aspects of behavior for virtual characters across Germany and Japan. In L. Sonenberg, P. Stone, K. Tumer, & P. Yolum (Eds.), Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS). (Vol. 2, pp. 441-448). Association for Computing Machinery.

Endrass, B., Nakano, Y., Lipi, A. A., Rehm, M., & André, E. (2011). Culture-Related Topic Selection in Small Talk Conversations across Germany and Japan. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 6895, 1-13. 10.1007/978-3-642-23974-8_1

Endrass, B., Rehm, M., & André, E. (2011). Planning Smalltalk Behavior with Cultural Influences for Multiagent Systems. Computer Speech and Language, 25(2), 158-174. 10.1016/j.csl.2010.04.001

Rodil, K., Eskildsen, S., & Rehm, M. (2011). Developing a visualized cultural knowledge transfer proto-type: An in situ evaluation in rural Namibia. In IKTC2011: Embracing Indigenous Knowledge Systems in a New Technology Design Paradigm. (pp. 108-115)

Rodil, K., Winschiers-Theophilus, H., Bidwell, N. J., Eskildsen, S., Rehm, M., & Kapuire, G. K. (2011). A New Visualization Approach to Re-Contextualize Indigenous Knowledge in Rural Africa. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 6947, 297-314. 10.1007/978-3-642-23771-3_23

Endrass, B., André, E., & Rehm, M. (2010). Towards Culturally-Aware Virtual Agent Systems. In E. Blanchard, & D. Allard (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Culturally-Aware Information Technology. (pp. 412-428). New York: Idea Group Publishing.

Endrass, B., Damian, I., Huber, P., Rehm, M., & André, E. (2010). Generating Culture-Specific Gestures for Virtual Agent Dialogs. In Intelligent Virtual Agents. (pp. 329-335). Springer. 10.1007/978-3-642-15892-6_34

Lipi, A. A., Nakano, Y., & Rehm, M. (2010). Culture and Social Relationship as Factors of Affecting Communicative Non-Verbal Behaviors. Transactions of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence, 25(6), 712-722.

Lipi, A. A., Nakano, Y., & Rehm, M. (2010). A Socio-Cultural Model Based on Empirical Data of Cultural and Social Relationship. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, (6259), 71-84. 10.1007/978-3-642-17184-0_6

Rehm, M. (2010). Nonsymbolic Gestural Interaction for Ambient Intelligence. In H. Aghajan, R. L-C. Delgado, & J. C. Augusto (Eds.), Human-Centric Interfaces for Ambient Intelligence. (pp. 327-345). Chapter 13.Academic Press, Incorporated

Rehm, M. (2010). Developing Enculturated Agents: Pitfalls and Strategies. In E. Blanchard, & D. Allard (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Culturally-Aware Information Technology. (pp. 362-386). New York: Idea Group Publishing.

Rehm, M., Leichtenstern, K., Plomer, J., & Wiedemann, C. (2010). Gesture Activated Mobile Edutainment (GAME): Intercultural Training of Nonverbal Behavior with Mobile Phones. In 9th International Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia. Association for Computing Machinery.

Winschiers-Theophilus, H., Bidwell, N., Blake, E., Kapuire, G., & Rehm, M. (2010). Merging experiences and perspectives in the complexity of cross-cultural design. In Proceedings of the 9th International Workshop on Internationalization of Products and Systems. (pp. 131-140). Product & Systems Internationalisation, Inc.