USC Digital Journalism Class Demos New Dimensions in Testimony

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 5:00pm

The questions were tentative at first, but came faster and faster as the students became more comfortable speaking to someone who wasn’t even there.

“How do you feel about the Nazis?”

“Do you remember what your family looked like?”

“Do you have nightmares?”

“What was it like being Jewish after the war?”

Answering those and other questions was a virtual projection of Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter, who recorded his end of the conversation years ago, but is able to react instantly to thousands of queries as part of USC Shoah Foundation’s New Dimensions in Testimony project.

Designed as an interactive educational tool to permit students far into the future to have “virtual conversations” with Holocaust survivors about their life experiences, New Dimensions in Testimony incorporates interview content recorded with advanced filming techniques, next-generation natural language processing, and specialized display technologies to deliver a learning environment where a survivor answers questions as if he or she were in the room.

The group visiting the Institute’s office on Tuesday were students in Robert Hernandez’ digital journalism class at USC. The visit was organized by USC senior Luis Hernandez (no relation), a USC Shoah Foundation intern who is taking the class. 

Robert Hernandez, who has experienced many modern ways of storytelling, was impressed with what he saw.

“It was effective and it works,” he said. “Journalistically, the impact and potential is amazing.”

Echoing his sentiment was senior Giovanni Moujaes, who said interacting with New Dimensions in Testimony left him stunned.

“It left me speechless, in the best way possible,” he said. “I had no idea a virtual sort of conversation could be as realistic as it was. If this is used in classrooms across the world, I can only imagine how it will inform their decisions and how they perceive this time in history as they grow up.”