If you could speak with any historical figure who would it be? Would you ask Lincoln about the darkest days of the Civil War, Mandela how he showed restraint after 27 years in prison or Truman about his decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The technology wasn’t available for those conversations but is here today. Dimensions in Testimony, a USC Shoah Foundation, created interactive videos of Holocaust survivors. Visitors to participating museums pose questions orally which artificial intelligence software interprets and plays a survivor’s best-suited response. It’s like asking a question in person but the other person is recorded. The software does not alter the survivors’ responses but continually improves its understanding of the questions that are asked. It learns how to find better answers. Museum visitors receive first-hand responses to their specific questions even though the interviewees may have passed away years before.

The project wanted to create a record that was not tied to today’s technology but had to interview survivors as soon as possible because most of them were more than 80-years-old. Interviews included every possible question museum-goers might ask and often exceeded sessions of 40 hours split across five days. These sessions were so long, survivors were asked to bring multiple sets of identical clothes. That way, recordings would appear to be made at the same time. Multiple cameras recorded each interviewee from every angle in the hopes that the recordings could be combined into a single three-dimensional hologram in the future.

Move the clock forward and our children might use this technology to ask questions of today’s notable and historic figures. “What was COVID like, what did you fear most on 9/11, why was Brexit popular, or how did Malaysia Air lose a flight in 2014?” It changes history from passive to interactive, from a single perspective to many, and from third-person accounts to first.

But the technology need not be limited to historic figures. Innovative entrepreneurs might chronicle conversations with grandparents. They might create interactive master classes with sports figures or performers. They might help prospective students gain access to prestigious universities by interviewing others who succeeded before them. The technology could crowdsource every question from “How did you get a promotion?” to “How did you find the perfect mate?” Dimensions in Testimony opens the door to new services and cottage industries. But it also provides valuable lessons – even for entrepreneurs who don’t use its technology.

Solve old problems with new solutions

Chronicling significant events drove our ancestors to draw on cave walls, civilizations to develop the written word, filmmakers to create documentaries, and everyday people to write diaries. It’s why parents record their children’s birthdays, sporting events, and graduations. Dimensions in Testimony took the next step solving these problems by making the solution interactive and personal.

Create a new category

If your product is hard to describe, it is equally hard to compete with. If you sell electronics, books, or shoes, customers will immediately understand but also have innumerable alternatives. If you offer a thousand interactive first-hand accounts from Holocaust survivors or from Ivy League students willing to share how they got accepted, you have an offering with no competition.

Don’t wait for the perfect time

The Shoah/USC project was forced to interview survivors immediately even though there was no way to create interactive holograms today. Survivors were aging and if the foundation waited for the technology to mature, first-hand experiences could be lost forever. This forced the Shoah/USC to build an imperfect product but that does not matter. The project offers something vastly different from everything else available today.

Uncertainty is part of entrepreneurship and creators must weigh new technologies’ potential against the ability to execute now. Entrepreneurs cannot foretell the future and should not attempt to. Instead, ask two questions. Can you produce a unique and valuable solution now? Will it be flexible enough to adapt in the future? Dimensions in Testimony may never create holograms or may discover that no one wants them. Neither of which matters. What matters is that Dimensions in Testimony provides something different than every other type of historical account and value to its audience.