New tech lets us ‘speak’ with Holocaust survivors, even after they’re gone

If you could hold a natural, face-to-face conversation with someone who has passed away, would you? Would you sit down with Albert Einstein? How about a parent? A best friend? If you answered yes, then we have good news: technology has arrived that may soon have you holding that internal debate. It’s called New Dimensions in Testimony and it was created by the USC Shoah Foundation, the institute started by Steven Spielberg to help combat hate and violence, primarily by capturing and telling stories of Holocaust survivors.

Right now, it’s a method for bringing Holocaust survivors virtually to classrooms. A big screen TV is rolled into the class, flipped on its side (as you would do with your phone), and students just ask the virtual survivor questions. The survivor, in turn, answers as if this was actually a giant Facetime call. This isn’t video conferencing, though. Survivors are being brought into a dome of lights and cameras and captured answering 1,000 questions over five days — about everything from their favorite color to what was it like as a child seeing their parents taken away from them for the last time.

As you speak into a microphone, speech recognition software recognizes what you’re saying and translates it to text. Everything the Holocaust survivor said has also been turned to text. Once it has your question, the system then uses artificial intelligence to pair that question with the most appropriate answer, which it then puts back out in video form.

The video is two-dimensional at this time, but in order to future proof the interviews, they’ve been captured with spherical array of camera. That way, when hologram technology has matured, you can sit right across from a full 3D image of survivors. Circling back to the question of who you might like to capture and speak with even after they’re gone, an offshoot of the Shoah Foundation called Storyfile has been created for exactly that purpose.