Given my fascination with the Holocaust, I am always drawn to content on this subject. I am also astounded by the innovations at the Shoah Foundation and their ‘New Dimensions in Testimony‘ (2016): an exciting marriage of human and technology to preserve eye witness testimony of Holocaust survivors.
I’m unsure of what to called this brilliant initiative by the Shoah Foundation – transhumanism? No… AI? I’m not sure this ‘virtual human’ can be called artificial intelligence since it is essentially an hologram that behaves like its human inspiration.
Here are a couple of especially interesting excerpts from ‘New Dimensions in Testimony’:
“The key element of the project is the ability of the system to interpret questions being asked and find the most relevant response. ICT pioneered the natural language understanding technology that is used in New Dimensions in Testimony to provide viewers with a truly immersive experience. Whether people ask, “Where were you born?” “Do you believe in God?” “How did you survive?” Data is captured and processed into video segments that can be played back verbatim, precisely as the survivors delivered them. The playback technology enables the survivor to seamlessly answer the question posed and is able to recognize similarities between word patterns in questions and answers. Still in development, the playback system allows the testimony to be viewed in 3-D from the front, as if it were given in a classroom or museum setting, diffusely lit to blend with the environment. ICT has developed a number of virtual human characters with this capability for a variety of purposes, but this is the first time a real person has been integrated into the technology.”
“Years from now, long after the last survivor has left us, New Dimensions in Testimony will be able to provide a valuable opportunity to engage with a survivor and ask them questions directly, encouraging them, each in their own way, to reflect on the deep and meaningful consequences of the Holocaust. Being able to ask a survivor questions will allow students to be active participants in their learning and develop important communication and critical-thinking skills. Being able to ask their own questions will teach students things about the Holocaust they never could learn from just reading a history book. By providing valuable points of view from someone who was there, students can better understand the human story behind the Holocaust and understand the impact it had on real people in a manner that is responsive and engaging, making history more relevant to their lives.”
This technology makes me think about how students of the future could, perhaps, send their digital doppelgänger to school if they are sick! Yet, I suppose this would be a mute point if in the future we only have online learning. Will brick and mortar schools or even blended learning become extinct?
It also brings up philosophical questions: through developing technology like this, could we preserve our family, friends and loved-ones and press a button or screen to call on their images to appear before us? What are the human limitations? What kind of positive and/or negative impacts would this have on our lives? This reminds me of Bayne (2014): “Technology here simultaneously, and paradoxically, enables both the transcendence and the preservation of the human.”
Miller (2011) describes how transhumanists promote the view that “human advancement will occur through technological augmentation and even the replacement of the fragile human body by more durable forms.” Is a 3D hologram projection of a human a ‘more durable form’? It would seem so, but what will we (as humans) be losing through this process?
Liked on YouTube: New Dimensions in Testimony from USC Shoah Foundation https://youtu.be/woxb_NPfxjI
This is an example video of how a classroom of students would interact with the digital hologram. It emphasizes the importance and significance of human interaction, dialogue and connection – human to human hologram?
New Dimensions in Testimony. (2016, December 2). Retrieved from https://sfi.usc.edu/research/initiatives/new-dimensions