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Published on April 13th, 2020 | by Emergent Enterprise

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Artificial Intelligence is Preserving our Ability to Converse with Holocaust Survivors Even After They Die

Emergent Insight:
We tend to think of bots as a small tool in the corner of a browser web screen. Lesley Stahl at CBS News shares an incredible technology that works similar to a bot but is much more powerful, immersive and impactful. By filming extensive testimonies of a holocaust survivor about their experience, it’s possible to create an AI-fueled 3D avatar that can have a conversation. The AI uses speech recognition to determine what the queries and comments are and uses the library of video clips to build a response. It’s an amazing way to learn from someone even if they have already passed away. Companies could use this same technology to create 3D avatar SMEs that could share expertise on any subject with new hires and other employees needing to learn a specialized subject.

Original Article:
Photo Above: Lesley Stahl speaks with Aaron Elster’s digital image (CBS)

Survivors of the Holocaust now have the chance to preserve their stories in a way that allows them to directly answer future generations’ questions about their experiences.

Tonight, as the world struggles to contain and recover from the novel coronavirus, we offer a story we completed just before life changed so dramatically. It is a story of history, hope, survival and resilience, which has its roots in another time when the world was convulsed by crisis – World War II.

his year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of that war and of the liberation of concentration camps across Europe. Most of the survivors who remain are now in their 80s and 90s. Soon there will be no one left who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand, no one to answer questions or bear witness to future generations. But a new and dramatic effort is underway to change that. Harnessing the technologies of the present and the future, it keeps alive the ability to talk to, and get answers from, the past.

Correspondent Lesley Stahl’s interview with Holocaust survivor Aaron Elster, who spent two years of his childhood hidden in a neighbor’s attic, was unlike any interview she had ever done.

“Aaron, tell us what your parents did before the war,” Stahl asked Elster.

“They owned and operated a butcher shop,” Elster said.

It wasn’t the content of the interview that was so unusual. 

“Where did you live?” Stahl asked.

“I was born in a small town in Poland called Sokolów Podlaski,” Elster said.

It’s the fact that this interview was with a man who was no longer alive. Aaron Elster died two years ago.  

“What’s the weather like today?” Stahl asked.

“I’m actually a recording,” Elster said. “I cannot answer that question.”

Heather Maio came up with the idea for this project.  She had worked on exhibits featuring Holocaust survivors for years and wanted future generations to have the same opportunity to interact with them as she’d had.  

“I wanted to talk to a Holocaust survivor like I would today,” Maio said. “With that person sitting right in front of me and we were having a conversation.”

She knew that back in the 90s, after making the film “Schindler’s List,” Steven Spielberg created a foundation named for the Hebrew word for the Holocaust – Shoah – to film and collect testimonies from as many survivors as possible. They have interviewed nearly 55,000 of them so far and have stored them at the University of Southern California. But Maio dreamed of something more dynamic, being able to actively converse with survivors after they’re gone. And she figured, in the age of artificial intelligence tools like Siri and Alexa, the technology had to be creatable.

She brought the idea to Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, and now her husband. He loved it, but some of his colleagues weren’t so sure.

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