Storyfile Uses AI to Allow Users to Talk with History

Leslie Ignacio

Leslie Ignacio is dot.LA's editorial intern. She is a recent California State University, Northridge graduate and previously worked for El Nuevo Sol, Telemundo and NBC and was named a Chips Quinn Scholar in 2019. As a bilingual journalist, she focuses on covering diversity in news. She's a Los Angeles native who enjoys trips to Disneyland in her free time.

Storyfile Uses AI to Allow Users to Talk with History

What began as a project to preserve the experiences of Holocaust survivors is now expanding to include a range of historical figures, and everyday heroes.

StoryFile announced last week it raised $2 million in funding, and expects to receive more in the coming months.

The Los Angeles based company developed from CEO and founder Heather Maio-Smith's desire, in 2009, to have a conversation with a Holocaust survivor. With her background in design for immersive experiences she knew she could figure out the technology to make it happen.

"I wanted to be able to just have a conversation," said Maio-Smith. "I wanted my children, I wanted my grandchildren, to be able to have that same conversation that I was having with these people… And then in 2010 I started to really look into, 'ok, how can I do this?'"

StoryFile's artificial intelligence technology Conversa creates an interactive video conversation that can be preserved and prompted by users. The videos allow users to ask the interviewee anywhere from 50-250 questions about their history and experiences, even decades after the interview subject has passed away.

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The pandemic has highlighted the importance of preserving these discussions for future generations.

"COVID actually has not affected us at all. In fact, it's proved our case, especially when we talk about education," said Maio-Smith.

StoryFile hopes to capture and preserve interactive interviews with world leaders and people who changed society, as well as everyday people — including your grandparents —so the next generation can learn from their ancestors' experiences.

The company believes that if this technology works for important figures, it can also preserve and share the experiences of everyday people.

StoryFile launched in 2017, but the beta version of their app came out earlier this year. The company has worked on projects with large media partners including Time Magazine, who it charges for use of the technology.

The company is now working with Civil Rights-era Freedom Riders to record their experiences. And they hope their recent $2 million raise — as well as another $3 million that's expected to come by the end of this year — will help boost their platform.

"100 years from now, everyone on the planet will have a StoryFile," said Maio-Smith. "You don't know what anyone's going to accomplish in their lifetime. So anyone will be able to look to find a person on StoryFile, and actually just talk to them, ask them questions...You could talk to your mom or your great great aunt who came to this country and talk to her about her experience coming to the country and what she did."

The company hopes to use the new funds to expand their technology and launch their app on both iPhone and Android platforms.

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