Artificial Intelligence Program Helps History Buffs Connect with Holocaust Survivors—Even Dead Ones

I’ve done hundreds—if not thousands—of interviews in my almost-25-year journalism career but I can say with almost-certainty I’ve never done an interview quite like the one 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl did with Holocaust survivor Aaron Elster, who died two years ago.

Yes, you read that right: Stahl interviewed a man who’s been dead for two years—and he answered most of her questions with complete and compelling answers.

As you might imagine, technology was involved in this, this time artificial intelligence—and a level of extreme pre-planning.

An initiative started a few years ago by Heather Maio is allowing people to talk to some Holocaust survivors as if they were actually in the room.

This isn’t like the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World, where the animatronic figures say the same things several times per day.

Elster actually gave thoughtful responses to Stahl’s questions, although he couldn’t give a proper response to Stahl’s question about today’s since, you know, he’s been dead for two years.

Using AI for Interviews

As far as I know, I’ve never interviewed anyone after they died—although there were certainly some interviews I did where the answers made me wonder if there person was actually listening to me or paying attention to what I was actually asking him or her.

This technology is primarily being used and perfected to preserve the legacy of World War II and those who survived World War II, but I can see it having potential in just about every type of museum.

Imagine being able to talk to Jackie Robinson about his struggle for racial equality in sports or talking to Leonardo da Vinci about what he expected the long-term effect on society of the Mona Lisa, for example.

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Ever since I watched this 60 Minutes segment, I’ve been racking my brains to figure out who I’d want to interview using artificial intelligence—and what I’d ask him or her. I think it might be Walt Disney.

I’m guessing he’d have some interesting things about what he envisioned in AV at his parks—and I wonder how many of those visions are still being developed decades after they became thoughts in his brain.



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