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Holocaust activist consoles family at her own funeral with the help of AI

Mourners were able to watch her respond to questions about her life and spirituality, thanks to AI conversational video technology developed by her son's company.

Holocaust activist consoles family at her own funeral with the help of AI
Cover Image Source: YouTube/ Reuters

Holocaust activist Marina Smith passed away at the age of 87 in June, leaving grieving family and friends thinking this would be the last they would be able to speak with her. But, with AI technology, she appeared to be able to respond to questions at a memorial service for her, according to the BBC.

Funeral attendees were able to watch her respond to questions about her life, thanks to AI conversational video technology developed by her son's company. The holocaust educator spoke via hologram about her life and spirituality and answered queries from the audience of family members. The hologram, according to Stephen Smith, Marina's son, "shocked" the mourners and provided "new details and honesty" in its responses. Stephen says it allowed his mother to be "sort of present."



Stephen, the chief executive and co-founder of StoryFile, told Telegraph, "Mum answered questions from grieving relatives after they had watched her cremation. The extraordinary thing was that she answered their questions with new details and honesty. People feel emboldened when recording their data. Mourners might get a freer, truer version of their lost loved one."

Using 20 synchronized cameras to record a subject's responses to a series of questions while they are still alive, StoryFile can create a digital clone of that subject. The video is then processed by professionals, who tag clips and use the data to train AI that can then respond to queries in natural language. The completed work is posted on the StoryFile platform, where it can be viewed and interacted with even after the person has passed. Those who attend their funeral can communicate with their loved ones because the technology simulates a real-time conversation.



Marina used a webcam and her computer to record responses to her Storyfile questions in January over the course of two days. At her memorial service, the AI conversational video reportedly answered questions about her early years, according to Stephen. "This included difficult topics such as the divorce of her parents and living as an immigrant from India," he said.

"She was also prepared to answer interesting questions about her points of view on politics, the environment, and the future, which was interesting because I had never had those conversations with her before. Relatives were staggered by my mum’s new honesty at her funeral. She had previously been too embarrassed to reveal her true childhood. A question about it at the funeral suddenly had her revealing her childhood in India that we knew nothing about," Stephen said.



Before it was used at funerals, StoryFile was created in 2017 with the intention of preserving the stories of Holocaust survivors and other historical figures. The founders got the idea for the business while developing interactive holograms of Holocaust survivors for the USC Shoah Foundation. The company believes that the technology has a wide range of potential commercial uses, from sales to customer service.

In the future, according to Stephen, people will continuously document their lives, allowing them to speak to their 18-year-old selves when they're 50 or introduce their children to their 16-year-old selves.



Rollo Carpenter, who has no affiliation with Stephen's business StoryFile, told the BBC the system wasn't attempting to generate its own responses or using artificial intelligence to come up with solutions. "It's just selecting from a pre-recorded set of sequences and cleverly allowing people to cause them to be played," he said. In the past, it has been proposed that AI could be employed to produce entirely synthetic versions of deceased individuals. But Stephen disputes the notion that the technology available today is sufficient to do this. "Everything about us is so absolutely unique to us," he said. "There is no way you can create a synthetic version of me, even though it may look like me."

According to Carpenter, using current AI to create a "computer-generated" person runs the risk of "putting words into the deceased person's mouth - and it could be worse than that, those words could be believed by the audience."


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