Using Artificial Intelligence to Put Names to the Faces of Holocaust-Era Photographs

June 28, 2022 | Yaakov Schwartz
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The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the POLIN museum in Warsaw, and many other institutions have extensive collections of photographs taken of ordinary Jews before and during World War II. Yet identifying the people in them is usually only made possible by serendipity. Daniel Patt has devised a way to use computer technology to solve the problem, as Yaakov Schwartz writes:

Patt, a forty-year-old software engineer . . . set to work creating and developing From Numbers to Names (N2N), an artificial intelligence-driven facial-recognition platform that can scan through photos from prewar Europe and the Holocaust, linking them to people living today.

Currently, N2N’s software—which is free and simple to use—only returns the ten best potential matches that it can find in the database available to it. Though not yet perfect, the nonprofit project has already seen great success: the software has been used to search through hundreds of thousands of photos to identify faces for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) as well as individual survivors and descendants of survivors—including a number of celebrities.

Patt, who only works on the project on his own time and with his own resources, has now been joined by a growing team of engineers, data scientists, and researchers, who are constantly expanding the reach and accuracy of the software. In addition to the photos and videos currently available to the platform, Patt is working for N2N to gain access to 700,000 more photos from the pre-Holocaust and Holocaust eras.

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