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Publicly Available Published by Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag July 12, 2015

Introduction to the Special Issue on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Social Technologies

  • Maximilian Eibl EMAIL logo , Peter Ohler and Daniel Pietschmann
From the journal i-com

Interactive media have a fast growing social impact on current societies. While some technologies such as smartphones already enable us to experience new ways to interact in social environments, other technologies such as large scale multi touch surfaces, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality glasses, and intelligent software are at the verge of driving these experiences even further. This new type of social technologies includes both tools interacting with users themselves (e. g. social robots, virtual agents, assistance systems) and tools that facilitate the interaction between two or more users (e. g. tutor systems, multiplayer games, multi touch tables).

These multifaceted topics in the context of human computer interaction combine expertise from different fields of research or disciplines concerned with human factors, social interaction, computer science, or engineering. While interdisciplinary approaches benefit from different perspectives on the respective technology, they often face conceptual, methodological, or even cultural challenges. Diverse strategies can be employed, both to maximize the benefits of interdisciplinary research, and to minimize misunderstandings or problems. At the same time, successful cooperation can serve as showcases for best practices for future endeavors.

Keeping these challenges in mind, authors from interdisciplinary research groups present their individual approaches in the context of social technologies in this special issue.

Driven by large industry investments, developments of Virtual Reality (VR) technologies including unobtrusive sensors, actuators and novel display devices are rapidly progressing. The article Hybrid avatar-agent technology – A conceptual step towards mediated “social” virtual reality and its respective challenges by Roth et al. addresses the shortcomings of today’s VR in general and the social dimension of virtual worlds in particular. They discuss current limitations based on technical and psychological aspects. Taking into consideration the specific strengths and weaknesses of humans and machines, the authors propose a conceptual turn in social VR which focuses on what they call “hybrid avatar-agent systems”. Such systems should be able to generate avatar mediated interactions between real humans and an artificial social intelligence (AIS) which monitors, and potentially moderates or transforms ongoing virtual interactions based on social signals, such as performing adaptive manipulations of behavior in intercultural conversations. The authors introduce a respective base architecture and discusses necessary research prospects and challenges as a starting point for future research and development.

Museums are an environment in which experimental installations can be evaluated involving very different user groups. Modern exhibitions put the visitors in a more active role, engaging them as participants instead of degrading them to passive recipients. The article Designing with ethnography: Tabletops and the importance of their physical setup for group interactions in exhibitions by Storz et al. describes the design of table top applications for semi-public environments like museums. The aim of such applications is to create walk-up-and-use scenarios that allow intuitive use for everyone with reference to objects, content and design of the exhibitions. The article describes two table tops, one installed at the Industriemuseum (industrial museum) Chemnitz and another one at the exhibition digital unterwegs (travelling digitally) travelling through Germany and Austria in 2014 on the exhibition ship MS Wissenschaft. The development of the table tops was accompanied by ethnographic studies which highly influenced the design of the table itself as well as the applications running on the table. The article presents an extract of the ethnographic study performed on the MS Wissenschaft.

The article Human capacities for emotion recognition and their implications for computer vision by Liebold et al. focusses on automatic emotion recognition through the use of technology. The authors review literature on human emotion processing and suggest an alternative approach to affective computing. They postulate that the generalizability and robustness of existing models can be greatly increased by three major steps: (1) modeling emotional processes as a necessary foundation of emotion recognition; (2) basing models of emotional processes on our knowledge about the human brain; (3) conceptualizing emotions based on appraisal processes and thus regarding emotion expressions as expressive behavior linked to these appraisals rather than fixed neuro-motor patterns. A model for the amygdala-visual cortex circuit is derived from the current state of neuroscientific research, which is capable of conditioning visual stimuli with body reactions to enable rapid emotional processing of stimuli consistent with early stages of psychological appraisal theories.

The article Cognitive tools for design engineers: A framework for the development of intelligent CAD systems by Wood et al. focuses on design engineers. These are seen as highly creative and unorthodox individuals who invent novel solutions that satisfy a set of constraints that are often ill-defined and customer driven. The paper develops a cognitive psychological theory for computer aided design (CAD) systems that support the design engineer during the creative problem solving process by reasoning and meaningful design alternatives. The authors propose the introduction of knowledge ontologies in the CAD process.

Wirzberger and Russwinkel discuss the effects of interrupting a smartphone task with varying levels of mental demand on human cognition in their article Modeling interruption and resumption in a smartphone task: an ACT-R approach. The authors present an experimental study, using a cognitive modeling approach and applying the cognitive architecture ACT-R to investigate task-related cognitive processing. The inspected task setting involves a shopping scenario, manipulating interruption via product advertisements and mental demands by the respective number of people shopping is done for. Model predictions are validated through a corresponding experimental setting with 62 human participants. Comparing model and human data in a defined set of performance-related parameters displays mixed results that indicate an acceptable fit – at least in some cases. Potential explanations for the observed differences are discussed at the end.

The article Storytelling as a means to transfer knowledge via narration. A scenario for a narrating pedagogical agent by Wuttke et al. focuses on storytelling and using traditional narration principles for human-agent-interaction that can be employed for learning scenarios. The article describes the potential role of pedagogical agents as narrators with an exemplary case and discusses the implications for future research.

This special issue was organized by the Chemnitz based DFG funded Research Training Group Connecting Virtual and Real Social Worlds (GRK 1780, 15 external reviewers from the international and German HCI and Social Sciences community supported us. We received twelve papers of which six were included in this special issue. Many thanks to the reviewers and authors!

Published Online: 2015-07-12
Published in Print: 2015-08-01

© 2015 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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