The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam attracts 1.3 million people annually. Yet, as The New York Times reports, some visitors, especially younger and foreign tourists, have limited knowledge about the Holocaust. One misinformed teen from Ontario, for instance, asked her friends if Frank hid Jews.
Even if attendees lack information about the atrocities of World War II, or even about who Frank was, the museum at the famous diarist’s home is doing something right: avoiding what Yale University historian Timothy Snyder calls “memorial culture”—a way of commemorating the Holocaust that privileges the act of remembrance itself over the specificity of historical details.
On Tuesday, to mark International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the museum unveiled a more immediate way for visitors to engage with the past: a computer-generated robot interlocutor. Prince Constantijn of the Netherlands himself appeared at the museum to introduce the bot, which was designed in partnership with Facebook Netherlands and offers information about Frank’s life via a personalized chat.
The chat-bot program is based on artificial intelligence. Although the virtual Frank can only answer a limited range of questions now (such as “Do you want to know the opening times of the museum, or know more about Anne Frank?” and “Do you want to learn about her diary, or the annex in the Amsterdam canal house where Anne hid with her family?”), the program will improve over time based on the types of questions that users ask. It also gives Frank’s story global reach, since it can be accessed anywhere.
“In these troubling times we live in, the story of Anne Frank is more relevant than ever,” said Ronald Leopold, managing director of the Anne Frank Foundation.
“We are concerned about the fact that more than 70 years after the war, half of the visitors are under 30 and they know less than my generation. So it’s important to give more historical context and more historical information to connect with that history,” he added.
Zoe Miller is Tablet’s editorial intern. Follow her on Twitter here.