The ingenious plan to preserve Holocaust survivors as holograms

The Week
Computer scientist David Traum, left, interacts with a Holocaust survivor using the "Virtual Survivor Visualization."

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Computer scientist David Traum, left, interacts with a Holocaust survivor using the "Virtual Survivor Visualization."

As the number of living Holocaust survivors dwindles, researchers and activists use new technology to preserve their legacies

Forget Tupac's beyond-the-grave performance at Coachella: The University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation is hard at work creating high-tech holograms that have a much higher educational quotient. The Foundation is putting the finishing touches on its first three-dimensional holograms of nearly a dozen Holocaust survivors in hopes that these digital dopplegangers will be able to tell their stories to generations to come. Here's what you need to know about the project:

Why are these holograms important?
It should go without saying that the Holocaust was a very real and incredibly tragic event, but Holocaust deniers do exist (Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a prominent example). Having living survivors with a wealth of stories to tell is perhaps the most powerful way to disseminate the truth about this horrific time in history. But since the average age of a Holocaust survivor is 79, and nearly a quarter of survivors are now 85 or older, the number of living witnesses is already dwindling. That's why USC's "New Dimensions in Testimony" project is attempting to record and display survivors' stories "in a way that will continue the dialogue between Holocaust survivors and learners far into the future." It's also possible that once the holograms have been perfected, they could teach classes, take part in conferences, or provide an expert opinion on relevant topics.

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What makes them different from previous holograms, like Tupac's?
While the hologram of a rapping Tupac that debuted at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2012 was certainly impressive, it wasn't three-dimensional: Tupac's likeness was projected onto a thin screen that was nearly invisible to the audience. The holograms in the USC project, however, are actually 3D, and are projected into space rather than onto a screen. The New Dimensions team has also taken pains to make the holograms into more than simple projections: For example, 80-year-old survivor Pinchus Gutter, who saw his family herded into a Nazi camp's gas chambers, sat for hours answering 500 questions about his experience in order to create a hologram that can field questions from a live audience.

Where and when will the holograms debut?
An early version of Gutter's hologram debuted earlier this month during a talk at USC, but the New Dimensions team is still tweaking its technology. Once Gutter's hologram is finished, which could take anywhere from one to five years, his digital doppleganger and the other holograms in the works will likely be transported to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where visitors would be able to interact with them face-to-face for years to come.

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