Holocaust survivors to use AI to ‘future-proof’ their stories for UK schools

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A groundbreaking educational programme will launch in UK schools later this month using artificial intelligence and virtual reality to “future-proof” the testimonies of Holocaust survivors.

The Holocaust Educational Trust, a London-based charity, will launch its Testimony 360 programme across schools in the UK, allowing pupils to have lifelike, face-to-face conversations with Holocaust survivors through innovative technology.

The first part of the programme uses artificial technology to enable students to have a question-and-answer session with a virtual replication of a Holocaust survivor via a laptop and headphones. The second part allows pupils to explore key sites related to the survivor’s testimony through a virtual reality headset, including the concentration camps or ghettoes in which they were detained.

The chief executive of HET, Karen Pollock, described the programme, which was piloted across 15 schools with 800 students taking part, as “stimulating” and “critical” owing to the recent rise in antisemitism and the declining numbers of Holocaust survivors able to share their testimonies.

“The beauty of this technology means that you can take people without having to leave their armchair or leave their classroom and learn about the Holocaust,” she said. “We’re at a critical juncture, survivors are dwindling in number … when the eyewitnesses are not here, we have to still create these memorable moments and meaningful Holocaust education.”

It is mandatory for schools in the UK to teach pupils about the Holocaust within the history curriculum, with the aim of “making sure young people are aware of the atrocities of the Holocaust”, according to the government.

Holocaust survivors in their 80s and 90s visit schools across the country with HET to share their experiences first-hand. However, as the number of survivors falls and those alive grow older and frailer, the Testimony 360 programme aims to future-proof those testimonies to ensure interactions with survivors can still happen.

Pollock added: “We want young people to understand the individual experiences of people that managed to survive but they do need to understand about the loss and destruction and the nature of antisemitism, the nature of hate that led to this crime against humanity. When the survivors aren’t here and with Holocaust denial … it’s still very much an evolving phenomenon, with an explosion of antisemitism … it’s a critical moment.”

Manfred Goldberg, who survived the Stutthof concentration camp and a death march, is the first survivor to have had his story preserved using this technology for UK students. For the programme, Goldberg answered more than 1,000 potential questions and filmed for more than 20 hours across five days. Through AI, the survivor is able to answer a variety of questions ranging from his own experiences of the Holocaust, moving to the UK and even his favourite football club.

Goldberg described the technology as a “form of magic”.

“Long after I leave this world I will able to tell them in my own words … details of my Holocaust experiences to try to educate young people. I’m coming to terms with it, but it still sort of feels a little weird,” he said. “I do hope that many thousands of youngsters will have the opportunity of asking me these various questions and will go away believing that, one way or another, hatred can lead to atrocities which have been unprecedented.”

Gabriella Burton, an educator at HET, said children involved in the pilot had responded positively to the programme, adding: “I think this is revolutionary, not just in terms of Holocaust education but in terms of history education and education generally … the buzz in the classroom, it’s just really hard to describe how fantastic it is.”

Lara, a year 10 student at the Sacred Heart Catholic school who took part in the programme, described the experience as “very emotional”.

“You could really feel and see what the concentration camps were like and the conditions that they were in, and the features that they had and the rooms you could be in, for example, the barracks. It’s really realistic.”

Source: theguardian.com

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