AI to preserve Holocaust survivors stories long beyond their years

“With antisemitism on the rise, it’s crucial we keep the haunting memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive to ensure what our people endured is never forgotten," said Professor Dina Porat.

By BRADLEY LEVIN
July 10, 2019 20:51
2 minute read.
Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg and granddaughter light a memorial torch at the Yom Hashoah ceremo

Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg and granddaughter light a memorial torch at the Yom Hashoah ceremony in Auschwitz-Birkenau on the March of the Living.. (photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)

 
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In a time where first-hand accounts of the Holocaust are disappearing and antisemitism is increasing, remembrance of the event that wiped out around six million Jews is getting an important new spark of life in the form of artificial intelligence (AI).

At American Jewish University (AJU) in Los Angeles, a five day Hackathon (June 30 - July 4) involving 170 Jewish-American and Israeli-American teens - and teens from Israel - was held to create new ways to keep stories of the Holocaust alive, according to a press release by the Israeli American Council (IAC).

This year’s annual IAC Hackathon saw teens meet with Holocaust survivors to learn their stories, and then develop solutions in teams to make those stories highly accessible and meaningful to the public. It was the first Hackathon to approach Holocaust remembrance efforts through development of AI technology.

The Hackathon brought in volunteer executives from across America, who lent their expertise, knowledge, and experience to the teens.

The teens developed both online and offline products, but none were more impressive than the winning team, ConneXt, who invented an app with a multitude of attributes. The app includes tabs called Journey, Chat, Bios, and Share; these would allow users to form strong connections with personal stories from the Holocaust. The Journey tab gives users the option to select the age, origin, and path of a survivor. Through the Chat feature, users could message the Holocaust survivor they choose; users would receive AI-crafted responses based on programming associated with that specific survivor. This type of AI response would allow the survivor’s story to live on long after they pass. The app’s Share tab would serve as a basis for a petition to change Holocaust education standards - teaching the event is currently only required in six US states. The change would make Holocaust education mandatory in all 50.

According to a survey conducted by Schoen Consulting for the Claims Conference on Holocaust memory, 66% of millennials have never heard of Auschwitz.

Tel Aviv University Professor Dina Porat, who served as a judge at the Hackathon’s demo day, relayed a message that affirmed the importance of the new AI tech, “With antisemitism on the rise, it’s crucial we keep the haunting memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive to ensure what our people endured is never forgotten.”

Holocaust remembrance is undeniably, extremely important to the survival of the Jewish people. As many Holocaust survivors, such as the late Elie Weisel, have said, the history-altering event can never be truly be remembered; only those who were murdered knew the true horrors of the genocide. However, as the IAC believes, the world must do as much as it can to preserve their memory.

IAC Co-Founder and CEO Shoham Nicolet addressed the importance of this issue with a statement about the future of the Jewish people:

“The IAC made a conscious choice to make this year’s Hackathon about Holocaust education,” he said, “The secret of IAC Eitanim is taking teenagers, putting them in the ‘driver’s seat’, giving them tools, skills, and values – and most importantly connecting them with each other. There is no limit to where these teens can go and what they can achieve. When I look at these teenagers and how IAC Eitanim is inspiring deep connections to their Jewish heritage and Israel, I see the future of our community leadership and am confident in their ability to make change in the world.”

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