The Thread of Memory – Microsoft Unlocked

Preserving stories from D-Day’s last heroes for future generations

June 6, 1944: The beginning of the end

When Allied troops landed on the shores of Normandy 80 years ago, they made history with their courage and sacrifice, which contributed to the liberation of France from Nazi Germany. This day is known as D-Day, and was the largest air, naval, and land operation in history. The beginning of the end of World War II had begun. In The Thread of Memory, an immersive exhibit in France and online, we can see and understand what D-Day was like for the people who experienced it.

Heading blindly into the darkness

We never knew at what point one of us might be injured or killed. In any case, there was nothing to say. Infantry soldiers can only swallow their hearts with their tears.

Tom Rice (1921-2022)

Parachutist in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division

AI-driven insights connect the past and present

In The Thread of Memory, AI helps the past come alive with animated archival photos, 3D effects, and automatically generated captions. Maps from 80 years ago are superimposed onto the same geographical locations of today to give people a more interactive and immersive connection. Visitors from all over the world can search the photo and video archives with natural language to connect with D-Day heroes and learn from their stories.

Organizations that have provided access to their archives in support of the digital preservation of D-Day include the Liberation Mission, Iconem, l’Institut national de l’audiovisuel, Imperial War Museum (IWM) (UK), and Établissement de communication et de production audiovisuelle de la Défense (ECPAD) (France).

The Mission for the 80th anniversary of the Liberation of France works to leave a lasting commemorative legacy that will continue to involve future generations.

Philippe Etienne

Chairman of Mission Libération, Ambassadeur of France

Archival photos are enhanced with AI and refined in collaboration with historians

Original caption

Tank Rolling onto Utah Beach. The tank of a French fighting unit rolls out of an LST, onto a Normandy beach. They are waiting in a transit area for clearance to move forward in the liberation of their native land. 

AI enhanced caption

An M4 Sherman tank, labeled “TARENTAISE” indicating its French unit affiliation, exits from an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) onto the sandy shores of Utah Beach on August 2. With extra armor plating for protection, its turret number “98” visible, and wet tracks from the surf, the tank moves past American soldiers who are observing and guiding it from the LST’s ramp. Commanded by the maréchal des logis Bizard, his tank will be destroyed on August 12.

D-Day and its stories have been preserved in The Thread of Memory for all audiences, including younger generations craving a tech-based entryway, and future generations wishing to connect with one of the most important days in history. An immersive exhibit is now on display in Normandy and will travel to Provence on August 10th, and Paris in late October. The memories of the last living heroes of D-Day are also available in an interactive web portal.

“The use of digital technology and artificial intelligence will undoubtedly enable us to continue to ‘bring to life’ the actors and places of the Liberation, through immersive experiences that speak more to our younger generations. We are convinced that the project to digitize heritage sites, in partnership with Iconem and Microsoft, contributes to the Mission of Liberation’s work of transmitting memory,” says Philippe Etienne, Chairman of Mission Libération, Ambassadeur of France. 

The events of D-Day stand as a testament to the unity of allied forces who, despite their individual differences, came together with a shared purpose: to restore freedom to Europe from Nazi control. Microsoft’s Thread of Memory project uses AI to vividly bring personal narratives and photography to life, ensuring that all of us can learn from and pass on the hard-earned lessons of the past.

Brad Smith

Vice Chair and President of Microsoft

French architect Yves Ubelmann founded his company, Iconem, in 2013 to create 3D digital models of historic landmarks threatened by war, conflict, time, and nature. Advanced algorithms and the computing power of Microsoft AI help Iconem stitch thousands of photos into models to preserve the world’s most vulnerable monuments and historic sites. Iconem has surveyed sites in over 20 countries, and their digital preservations are helping everyone, especially teachers, students, and researchers, study history and better understand civilizations.

Join Brad Smith, Vice Chair and President of Microsoft, and Yves Ubelmann, CEO and founder of Iconem, as they discuss AI’s role in preserving our most precious sites.

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