This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Lesley Stahl reports on an innovative project that uses artificial intelligence technology to allow people to talk with Holocaust survivors, even after their death.
For Stahl, it meant continuing a conversation she started with a survivor almost three decades ago.
This high-tech initiative is a project of the USC Shoah Foundation, a non-profit organization created to collect testimonies from survivors of the Holocaust and other instances of genocide. The organization has interviewed nearly 55,000 Holocaust survivors so far, and their new project aims to go a step further.
The project's creators film lengthy interviews with Holocaust survivors, then enter all the recorded answers into a database. When a person asks a spoken question, voice recognition technology identifies what the person is asking, then artificial intelligence identifies the best answer to the question and pull up the video of that response. The resulting exchanges feel like real conversations.
"I wanted to talk to a Holocaust survivor like I would today, with that person sitting right in front of me and we were having a conversation," the project's co-creator,
Stahl used the technology for something never before seen on 60 Minutes: she interviewed people who are no longer alive. One of the survivors she digitally spoke with was Eva Kor, an identical twin who survived the brutal experiments of Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Kor died last summer at the age of 85, yet there she was, in a life-like projection, willing to answer Stahl's questions, even her recollections of Mengele: "When I looked into his eyes, I could see nothing but evil," the digital Kor told Stahl. "People say that the eyes are the center of the soul, and in Mengele's case, that was correct."
It was not the first time Stahl had spoken with Kor. In 1992, 60 Minutes reported on Mengele's twin experiments, and Stahl interviewed the living Kor at her home in Terre Haute, Indiana. At the time, Kor recalled how her twin sister, Miriam, helped sustain her life at Auschwitz.
"I was continuously fainting out of hunger; even after, I survived," Kor said. "Yet Miriam saved her bread for one whole week. Now can you imagine what willpower does it take?"
Kor told Stahl it had taken her 40 years before she was able to speak with her sister about the atrocities they experienced at Auschwitz. Now with the USC Shoah Foundation's innovative new project, people will be able to ask her about it for decades to come.