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[From the scene] AI-powered memorial keeps legacy of independence fighters alive

By Jie Ye-eun

Published : Aug. 20, 2023 - 14:38

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A media facade at the Independence Hall of Korea shows a video clip featuring revived images of independence fighters, including An Jung-geun (in the photo) through SK Telecom’s AI-powered digital remastering technology. (SK Telecom) A media facade at the Independence Hall of Korea shows a video clip featuring revived images of independence fighters, including An Jung-geun (in the photo) through SK Telecom’s AI-powered digital remastering technology. (SK Telecom)

CHEONAN, South Chungcheong Province -- Commemorating the 78th anniversary of the Aug. 15 Liberation Day this year, the state-run Independence Hall of Korea and the country’s largest telecommunications carrier SK Telecom have joined forces to restore faded photos of independence fighters and animate them using artificial intelligence.

Under a partnership signed in 2020, the Independence Hall and SK Telecom kicked off a five-year project to turn the memorial into a high-tech “Eco-Museum” by using augmented reality and virtual reality to present the revived images of people who fought for the independence of the Korean Peninsula from Japanese colonial rule.

Located about 100 kilometers away from Seoul, the Independence Hall echoed with the determined voices of independence activists An Jung-geun and Yu Gwan-sun, when a group of reporters visited the venue on Thursday.

A media facade was installed outside the memorial to play a four-minute video featuring eight independence fighters. They first appeared as blurry black-and-white photos but gradually changed into color photos, and their faces also became more youthful. At the time, most of the independent fighters were in their 10s and 20s, but the toll taken by their activities, as well as Japanese confinement and torture, meant they often look haggard in available photos.

Their faces were revived through SK Telecom’s own AI-powered digital remastering technology, called Supernova, which turns damaged black-and-white photos into high-quality color images. Its inpainting process was used to fill in missing parts of the photos to present complete images.

Because there are no data on their real voices, their voices were reproduced by voice actors, with AI technologies helping to revive their motions.

“To accurately restore old photos, both bad and good quality images were needed. In the case of Yu, there were rarely good-quality images of her, so we had to make quality images bad first and then revive the bad images again,” said Na Tae-young, head of the media AI team at SK Telecom.

The AI media robot Nuri, powered by OpenAI's ChatGPT, moves around the exhibition space to explain the independence movement to visitors at the Independence Hall of Korea. (SK Telecom) The AI media robot Nuri, powered by OpenAI's ChatGPT, moves around the exhibition space to explain the independence movement to visitors at the Independence Hall of Korea. (SK Telecom)

Another new feature of the memorial was a robot, called Nuri. Powered by OpenAI’s generative chat bot ChatGPT, the robot moved around the exhibition space to explain the independence movement to visitors. When visitors called out Nuri and asked questions, it answers with information acquired through AI learning.

According to SK Telecom officials, Nuri runs on the 3.5 version of ChatGPT, instead of the latest 4.0 version, to respond quicker. But it seemed like Nuri needed more time to become a perfect media robot because it has only learned some 300 questions so far and there were times when it struggled to give answers in a noisy environment.

Using web AR technology to introduce outdoor exhibits was another meaningful experience. By scanning QR codes installed on the memorial’s floors with smartphones or tablets, visitors can learn about the sculptures‘ information.

“If you think of independence fighters, their worn-out faces may have come up first so far. But AI technologies have revived their faces as more lively and stronger ones, which will help raise people’s awareness about them,” said Han See-jun, president of the memorial.