AI brings Golda Meir back to life at University of Haifa

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Prime Minister Golda Meir (credit: US LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

By: JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH | Published On: September 6 2023 15:35 | The Jerusalem Post

Artificial intelligence was able to recreate a speech made by Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, and experts now wonder how the use of AI will change how we study history.

“My friends, we are at war,” then-prime minister Golda Meir says as she directs her gaze at the camera, then continues for two minutes and nine seconds in Hebrew in her well-known voice.

“There is not a single Jew in the Land of Israel who does not believe that in the end we will emerge victorious.”

The words were said by Meir in 1948 before the general assembly of the Council of Jewish Organizations in Chicago, but were never filmed.

The video, which was screened Tuesday at the annual alumni event of the Ruderman Program for the Study of American Judaism of the University of Haifa, dealt with the use of artificial intelligence in the study of history, was created entirely by AI technology.

How will AI change how we study history?

Those involved said it is a “welcome development that will bring teenagers closer to the history of the Jewish people – or possibly be a warning sign regarding the deep-fake capabilities of artificial intelligence.

AI promotes groundbreaking research methods and innovative pedagogy and can undoubtedly bring the general public, and especially teenagers, closer to important materials in the study of history, said Dr. David Barak-Gorodetsky, head of the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa. “Golda Meir in the video is transformed from someone they may have heard of into a flesh-and-blood woman who looks at them and talks to them,” he noted.

“We know about the great impact of video content. And in today’s age in which you can use short video clips on social networks, the power of video is ever increasing. On the other hand, and certainly as historians, the ability to produce seemingly authentic historical content threatens the credibility of historical research, and obscures the concept of truth in relation to the past, and even in relation to the present.”

“We know about the great impact of video content. And in today’s age in which you can use short video clips on social networks, the power of video is ever increasing. On the other hand, and certainly as historians, the ability to produce seemingly authentic historical content threatens the credibility of historical research, and obscures the concept of truth in relation to the past, and even in relation to the present.”

Dr. David Barak-Gorodetsky

According to Barak-Gorodetsky, even during the production of Golda Meir’s short video, which was made thanks to the training of AI software on photos and films of the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive of the Hebrew University, the World Zionist Organization and the “Bitmuna – Toldot Am Yisrael” (Archive in Pictures), this question came up.

“As a humorous part that we wanted to screen at the event only to our alumni audience, we asked the software experts to make Golda Meir greet the conference visitor – and of course she did. And suddenly we noticed that we had created an ‘historical document’ that did not exist. We immediately realized that although it was clear to us that everyone would understand that it was a joke, we had to add a clear caption throughout the section saying that the words were never said but rather were created by artificial intelligence.”

Dr. Liraz Margalit, a psychologist and researcher of behavior in the digital age, also explained in her remarks at the event about the mechanism that makes video content so influential for us.

“The mechanism that receives the most weight in our decisions is the emotional mechanism. Therefore, when we watch a movie, even if we know that the movie was made via AI, our experience is processed as a real experience. This happens because our mind has not developed at the pace of technology, and in terms of our brain development, the experiences are the ones that influence and not what we know. Our perceptions are not directed at truth or reality but at survival in which the emotions are more significant from the rational.”

So what will the future bring forth – especially in the context of studying the past?

“The technology is already here, and it seems impossible to ignore it. There is no doubt that there are questions here that are important to raise for public discussion and that we must think about a regulation that properly balances the benefits and dangers of this technology. In the meantime, it is important to note that the video you saw came from a reliable and serious source – and as always, be critical of materials whose origin is unclear,” concluded Barak-Gorodetsky.

Ruderman Family Foundation president Jay Ruderman said, “Our students and graduates are the ambassadors for preserving the relationship between Israel and American Jewry. We are proud of their ability to infuse new content into this relationship, which is of paramount importance to our common identity. The Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa creates a cohesive group of influential Israelis, a gate to the values and perceptions of American Jewry and the importance of the relationship between the Jewish communities in Israel and the US.”