New Dimensions in Testimony

What is "New Dimensions in Testimony"?

Language: English

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“I found the interview to be amazing!  I felt like someone who’d never seen a plane, but now watched one land and a human being step out of it.”

Berel Lang
Prof. of Philosophy Emeritus, State University at Albany
Author, “Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide”

New Dimensions in Testimony is a collection of interactive biographies from USC Shoah Foundation that enable people to have conversations with pre-recorded video images of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses to genocide.

So far, 16 survivors – 15 from the Holocaust and one from the 1937 Nanjing Massacre – have been interviewed for the project. Each survivor selected to participate has also given his or her testimony to the Institute’s Visual History Archive, which contains 55,000 video testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides. But NDT is a new kind of initiative. The survivors were interviewed surrounded by cameras arranged in a rig to capture a three-dimensional recording of them telling their story in a new way, by answering questions that people are most likely to ask.

The value of the project is to provide an intimate experience with eyewitnesses to history who are uniquely qualified to reflect on life.

Extending the Conversation of Testimony

For more than 70 years, Holocaust survivors have recounted their stories to people all over the world, providing invaluable insights that shape and inform perspectives. As a part of those encounters, people have asked questions in their own words about issues that are important to them.

New Dimensions in Testimony is currently on permanent display at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, and will eventually be available at selected museums and learning institutions around the world to enhance USC Shoah Foundation’s mission of keeping voices of the Holocaust and other genocides alive for education and action.

USC Shoah Foundation and USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) compiled the questions posed for New Dimensions in Testimony from a variety of sources, including hundreds of students and members of the public. In all, more than 2,000 questions have been compiled for each interviewee, covering a vast range of subjects.

Advancing Technology for Humanity

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.

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 their experiences. 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 historical atrocities 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 acts of human cruelty and understand the impact it had on real people in a manner that is responsive and engaging, making history more relevant to their lives.

Collaborating within the project are Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, with technology by USC Institute for Creative Technologies, and concept by Conscience Display. Funding for New Dimensions in TestimonySM was provided in part by Pears Foundation, Louis. F. Smith, Melinda Goldrich and Andrea Cayton/Goldrich Family Foundation in honor of Jona Goldrich, and Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. Other partners include CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

For media inquiries about New Dimensions in Testimony, email josh.grossberg@usc.edu.

More Information About New Dimensions in Testimony

How Natural Language Technology Works

One critical element of the new project is developing the ability to understand questions put to a survivor and select appropriate responses. This will allow a person to engage in an interactive dialogue with the survivor, asking questions in their own words and hearing the survivor’s response. The technology must be able to recognize similarities between word patterns in questions and answers and choose answers to new questions that are similar, but not the same as, questions for which the answers are known.

The Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) has developed a number of virtual human characters with this capability, for a variety of purposes; for example, they are used for training clinical psychologists and soldiers to conduct different kinds of interviews or recognize when someone might be lying. To achieve the level of authenticity necessary to provide viewers with a truly immersive experience, we will apply the technology to the answers Holocaust survivors give us, so that young people interacting with them will have their questions answered.

—David Traum