Soon you'll be able to ask a hologram of a Holocaust survivor any question you want, and he will answer it.
Their pilot project involves a hologram recording of Pinchas Gutter, who was seven years old when World War II broke out. And yes, you can pretty much ask him anything.
The results are incredible. Being able to ask a question and get the appropriate answer can have a profound impact.
Ask him "What nightmares did you have after the Holocaust?" and he'll tell you:
"I have this nightmare of running into the fire, finding myself in a gas chamber and being gassed."
This type of accurate response is made possible through NLP, or natural language processing.
"We train [our system] to be able to answer not just the specific questions that people asked, but questions that are similar and eventually get a system that can handle to some extent, any question that somebody would have," said David Traum, the head researcher with the USC ICT.
To get Gutter to where he is now, the real-life Pinchas Gutter had to be interviewed five hours a day for a week.
"We are looking not for a linear interview that an editor would put together for a documentary," said Traum. "We're looking for breadth and to answer questions as people have them."
The hope is to create a "virtual conversation."
"Survivors and witnesses of genocide have an important story to share, but unfortunately, their numbers are dwindling every day," said Josh Grossberg of the USC Shoah Foundation in a statement. "Our goal is to make their stories relevant long into the future."
"Newer technologies allow people to do something they can’t with the Visual History Archive: direct the conversation themselves and explore areas that are of particular interest to them," said Grossberg. "The results are incredible. Being able to ask a question and get the appropriate answer can have a profound impact."
Gutter even has a sense of humor.
We asked him what his favorite joke was during our visit to the USC ICT, and this is what he said:
"When you ask somebody, what is the most terrible thing that can happen to you, and your answer is terrible," Gutter said. "Nothing is terrible. The only thing that's terrible is when you swallow an umbrella, the umbrella opens inside and you want to take it out. That is terrible."
Just make sure your questions are specific.
"If you ask a question like, 'What happened then?' or 'Is he alive?'" said Traum, "we don't know what 'he' or 'then' is referring to, so the answer might not be what you're looking for."
Gutter will even sing a song or two, if you ask him to.
So far, 13 interviews for the New Dimensions in Testimony project have been conducted. Gutter was the first and is the furthest along, according to the USC Shoah Foundation. Gutter will make his debut at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center this fall.