HIROSHIMA – With technology powered by artificial intelligence, high school students are colorizing black and white photos of Hiroshima taken before the atomic bombing of the city in 1945.
The 14 students at Hiroshima Jogakuin high school launched the initiative last November, aiming to make the images more vibrant and to revive the memories of survivors so they can better pass on their experiences to the next generation.
“We are the last generation who can talk to atomic bomb survivors. We want to treasure conversations generated through the photos and contribute to keeping records of their accounts,” said Anju Niwata, 16.
The students began the work after learning about AI-based free colorization technology from their collaborator, Hidenori Watanabe, a professor of information design at the graduate school of the University of Tokyo.
The AI technology, which stores data on 2.3 million matching color and black and white photos of the same subject, first picks the appropriate colors.
The students then modify them to bring them as close as possible to the original color based on the accounts of the A-bomb survivors they interviewed.
The students are colorizing photos received from four hibakusha and keeping video records of the survivors’ accounts.
Tokuzo Hamai, an 83-year-old hibakusha from Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, provided 35 photos from the prewar period, including those showing him with his parents and siblings, who died as a result of the bombing. The pictures were kept safe in the aftermath at the place to which he was evacuated.
“Adding colors to the photos made the scenery in the photos more stereoscopic,” Hamai said, adding happily that the images had brought back forgotten memories of a friend.
Watanabe said that black and white photos seem to divide the lives of modern people and those of the prewar period. “I hope colorization (technology) will bridge the postwar and prewar periods,” he said.
The United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and the second on Nagasaki three days later. Around 210,000 people are estimated to have died from the attacks by the end of 1945. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, bringing World War II to an end.