An AI-assisted virtual conversation with WWII vets is the latest feature at a New Orleans museum.

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Olin Pickens sat in his wheelchair facing a life-size portrait of himself on a screen, asking it questions about being held prisoner by German soldiers during World War II. was After a pause, her video-recorded twin was given “sauerkraut soup” by her captors before a forceful march.

“That was Tuesday morning, February 16,” Pickens’ on-screen likeness replied. “And so we began to march. We would walk for four hours, then rest for 10 minutes.

Pickens is among 18 war veterans whose support efforts are featured in an interactive exhibit that opened Wednesday at the National WWII Museum. The exhibit uses artificial intelligence to allow visitors to have virtual conversations with images of veterans.

Pickens, of Nesbitt, Mississippi, was captured in Tunisia in 1943 when American soldiers from the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion were overrun by German forces. After spending the rest of the war in prison, he returned home alive.

“I’m making history, seeing myself telling the story of what happened to me there,” said Pickens, who celebrated his 102nd birthday in December. “I’m so proud that I’m here, that people can see me.”

Front-end sound exposures also enable visitors. New Orleans Museum Asking questions of wartime home front heroes and supporters of the American war effort—including a military nurse who served in the Philippines, an airplane factory worker, and Margaret Carey, a dancer who performed in USO shows. And after the war, Disney productions had Tinker Bell as the character model.

Four years in the making, the project features video-recorded interviews with 18 veterans of the war or aid efforts – each of them asked as many as a thousand questions about the war and their personal lives. Among the participants was Marine Corps veteran Herschel Woodrow “Woody” Wilson, a Medal of Honor winner who fought at Iwo Jima, Japan. He died in June 2022 after recording his answers.

Visitors to the new exhibit will stand in front of the console and choose who they want to talk to. Then, a life-size image of the person sitting comfortably in a chair will appear on a screen in front of them.

“Any of us can ask questions,” said Peter Crane, a retired Army colonel and the museum’s vice president for education. This will identify the elements of the question. And then using AI, it will match the elements of that question to the most appropriate of those thousand answers.

The exhibit is similar to the interactive. Interviews with Holocaust Survivors Produced by the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation, founded by film director Stephen Spielberg. The project also uses life-sized projections of real people who appear to answer questions in real time. They have been featured in Holocaust museums across America for many years.

Aging veterans The New Orleans Museum, which opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum, has long played a role in personalizing the viewing experience. Veterans often volunteered at the museum, manning a table near the entrance where visitors could talk to them about the war.

But as veterans age and die, the practice has waned. Crane said the COVID-19 pandemic was particularly hard on the WWII generation.

Theodore Burton Jr., who was the first black recruit for the U.S. Marine Corps during the war, said he was thrilled to help the museum “do things with mechanical devices that we’re not going to do in the future.” are.”

The 98-year-old veteran, who was later appointed U.S. ambassador to Barbados and Grenada by President Gerald Ford, got a chance Wednesday to question his virtual self, sitting onscreen wearing the Congressional Gold Medal that Burton received in 2012. was given

“There are fewer and fewer World War II veterans, and a lot of people who will never see it,” Burton said. “But they can come here and see and talk to them.”

Technology is not perfect. For example, when Crane asked photo veteran Bob Wolff if he had a dog as a child, there was a broad response about Wolff’s childhood — his favorite radio shows and breakfast cereal — Before he notes that he has pet turtles.

But, Crane said, AI can learn a mechanism as more questions are asked about it and it is redefined. A short pause after asking a question would be reduced, he said, and recorded responses would be more responsive to questions.

The Voices from the Front interactive station was unveiled Wednesday as part of the opening of the museum’s new Malcolm S. Forbes Rare and Iconic Artifacts Gallery, named after an infantry machine gunner who fought in Europe next. He fought on the front lines. Malcolm S. Forbes was the son of Bertie Charles Forbes, the founder of Forbes magazine. The exhibit includes his Bronze Star, Purple Heart and a blood-stained jacket he was wearing when he was wounded.

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