ICH Theme


Overall Direction for the Application of Digital Technology in the Preservation and Utilization of Intangible Cultural Heritage
Ahn Jae-hong
Digital technology has changed many aspects of our lives, ranging from the creation of information to interpersonal communication, the accumulation and exchange of knowledge, and even ways of enjoying culture. With the arrival of the digital era, cultural heritage has also eventually come to intersect with the digital, though somewhat belatedly compared to other fields. The general public has become accustomed to using digital devices to access necessary information and engaging with new experiences through interactive content, even in the context of enjoying cultural heritage. Under these circumstances, cultural heritage institutions have no choice but to pay attention to establishing digital information on cultural heritage and providing related content services. Furthermore, there has been a considerable increase in the importance of applying digital technology and digital data at every stage of handling cultural heritage, such as recording, preservation, research and interpretation, in addition to the service aspect of disseminating cultural heritage among the public.
Entering the digital age, digital transformation is rapidly becoming one of the main new keywords in various fields of society, as it has been introducing fundamental changes in digital-related aspects of institutions such as strategy, process, system, organization and culture. Going beyond the stage of information digitization, it is leading to the further diversification of digital technology and environment. As part of efforts to respond systemically to the digital transformation that is taking place across the entire society and economy, this year, the Cultural Heritage Administration has announced a strategy to broadly integrate scientific data and intelligent information technology to its methods of preservation, management, and utilization of cultural heritage, based on the ‘Cultural Heritage Administration for Next Generation on Evolution.’ Amidst such trends, there have been active discussions and attempts to harness digital technology for the field of intangible cultural heritage (hereinafter, “ICH”). This paper focuses on the overall direction of applying digital technology to ICH preservation and utilization at the present point in time.
For tangible cultural heritage, the utilization method and process of digital documentation have already been established to a significant extent, particularly with regard to the technology to capture three-dimensional models of objects. In addition, there is some degree of standardization with regard to the format, level and precision of data. Unlike tangible cultural heritage with a fixed shape to be captured at a given time, the utilization of digital technology for ICH has remained lacking due to the technical difficulty of capturing movements that change over time such as traditional performing arts, traditional craftsmanship, rites and rituals, traditional plays, and martial arts. Elements that constitute ICH include shapes, movements, and sounds. The characteristics of digital information enable each element to be separated, digitized, and then synthesized on a single processor. Recording and data processing technologies have been evolving constantly and the recent emergence of AI technology is facilitating the further advancement of the application of existing technologies and new methods of data processing, which are highly anticipated. The following sections will examine the technologies used to record the shapes, movements, and sounds of the main elements of ICH.


Recording and Reproduction of Shapes

Throughout the history of paintings, artists have endeavored to represent the three-dimensional real world on a two-dimensional plane as realistically as possible by painting or drawing it. Optical devices like the camera obscura enabled them to trace the image of a view projected through a lens and the invention of photography allowed images to be captured on a physical medium. With the recent technological advances in optical three-dimensional data acquisition such as three-dimensional scanning or photogrammetry technology, stereoscopic shapes in the real world can now be converted into realistic three-dimensional data. This technology can also be used to capture human beings by filming them in a lightbox equipped with several cameras in order to create a realistic three-dimensional model from numerous photographs taken at different angles.


When it comes to reproducing these shapes instead of recording them, the advancement of technology has made it possible to devise new ways for utilization. With the help of computer vision and AI technology, a three-dimensional model can be created from a single portrait, which allows a figure from the past to be easily reproduced into a three-dimensional image. In addition, the creation of a unique AI-based virtual character that is not based on an existing person is contributing towards overcoming the uncanny valley. As such, precise movement data has come to form the basis of hyper-realistic reproduction.


Recording of Movements

A person’s movements, such as a dance, were historically recorded using symbols, images, and movements of points and planes. As part of such efforts, Rudolf von Laban developed Labanotation, a notation system for recording essential elements of human movement by using visual symbols. In this regard, recording images has been the most effective method throughout the analog and digital eras. More recently, motion capture technology has been used to record human movements through datafication and utilize the resulting data. For example, motion capture was applied to record elements of National Intangible Cultural Heritage including solo dances such as Monk’s Dance, Exorcism Dance, and Dance of Peace, as well as group dances such as Jinju Sword Dance, Victory Dance, and Dance of Cheoyong. However, the process of attaching markers to dancers in order to extract data proved to be disruptive, and a question was raised as to whether the technology is suitable as a documentation method in terms of the quantity and standard of the data produced. Recent developments in the technology, however, now allow a marker-less approach to motion capture, unlike the previous method of capturing point movements by tracking markers attached onto the main joints of the subject. The latest volumetric capture technology converts human movements into plane movement data by generating a moving mesh model after extracting the shape and movement of the person simultaneously while the images are being filmed using multiple sets of cameras. Meanwhile, deep-learning-based AI technology now makes it possible to extract three-dimensional data from two-dimensional body movement images. There is even a dance tutoring service using this technology. Also, low-quality visual recordings from the past can be converted into clear high-resolution images with few defects. These technological advancements have allowed us to consider the feasibility of recording movements from a wider area with more people, or extracting movement data from past recordings.


Recording of Sounds

The space for capturing sound has gradually expanded from mono to stereo, surround sound, and further to three-dimensional spaces, while reproducing the locations of sound sources in a three-dimensional space also allows for a more immersive experience. AI technology helps to identify the locations of sound sources in a video recording and reconstruct the original sound into a three-dimensional sound. In addition, it is able to reproduce the unique tone of human voices through machine learning. This speech synthesis technology has already been used to release a new song in the voice of a deceased singer who did not perform the song during their lifetime. One day, it may even become possible to listen to a new piece of pansori, or the epic chant of Korea, by deceased master singers.


Suggestions for Digital Transformation Strategies for ICH

The various technological advancements described above are expected to result in the effective application of digital technology to the ICH field. It is time to analyze the current status and direction of the relevant technology and have a separate discussion on digital transformation strategies for the ICH field. Facilitating the application of digital technology to the ICH field will require cooperation with experts. Naturally, it will be necessary to include concerns over ethics and rights in the discussion regarding new areas opened up by AI.


First of all, it is necessary to define the role of digital technology in the preservation and utilization of ICH and examine the current trends and development direction of related technologies. For example, separate strategies should be established for technology used to record ICH, conduct R&D on ICH, and utilize ICH. Technology used to record ICH will require conditions such as standards, interoperability, and sustainable accessibility, as well as the analysis of the current status regarding which elements can be recorded and how they can be utilized for each type of ICH. It is also necessary to explore the role and potential of the latest technology in terms of contributing to the preservation and transmission of knowledge and knowhow on ICH, in addition to their recording. Furthermore, continuous efforts should be made to explore new technological possibilities through R&D; conduct new analyses and create new knowledge based on digital technology; and develop content services that could contribute to community participation and public dissemination. By establishing a medium-to-long-term plan based on the analysis of the developmental direction of related new technology, it would be possible to identify aspects such as the development and utilization of such technology, data accumulation and archiving, and data-based analysis and services.


It is necessary to understand technology and ICH and use the power of imagination in establishing a strategy for applying the advancement of existing technologies and emerging technologies such as AI in the ICH field. In addition, consideration should be given to issues that must not be overlooked in the course of expanding the application of digital technology, such as its collision with the local community’s traditional views, the credibility and authenticity of the documentation process and recording outcomes, and issues related to intellectual property rights. This is in order to ensure that digital technology, which may seem to be devoid of humanity, instead contributes to the deeply human endeavor of preserving our ICH.

Contributed by Ahn Jae-hong, a visiting professor at KAIST Graduate School of Culture Technology