My Heritage’s Deep Nostalgia: Are Deepfakes Creepy or Magical?

Over the years, deepfakes have reached a sophistication where it is hard to tell between a real and fake video.
Samarth Grover
Tech News
Over the years, deepfakes have reached a sophistication where it is hard to tell between a real and a fake video.
(Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)
Over the years, deepfakes have reached a sophistication where it is hard to tell between a real and a fake video.

Over the past few days, Twitter has been buzzing with short deepfake videos. Bhagat Singh, Einstein, Mona Lisa, Charles Dickens, Louisa Roakes, and people's own ancestors can now be brought to life.

MyHeritage, a Genealogy website meant for tracking one's family, is now offering a new service called Deep Nostalgia. The feature allows the user to animate old photographs creating a short video. It accurately applies the drivers to a face and guides the movement in the animation making your ancestor smile, blink, and turn their heads.

Deep Learning And Highly Refined Deepfakes

Deep learning is the more sophisticated part of Artificial Learning that is inspired by our own network of neurons. It mimics the workings of a human brain and is able to recognise speech, translate languages, and make decisions.

MyHeritage licensed its software from an Israeli company D-ID that specialises in video re-enactment using deep learning. The tool uses several drivers to animate the faces in the photograph. It's the same AI used for creating "deepfake" videos.

Over the past few years, “deepfakes” have reached a sophistication where it has become hard to tell between a real and a fake video.

Just two days ago, a deepfake of actor Tom Cruise went viral:

"Seeing is no longer believing."

Deep learning AI makes images of fake events, making people appear to be saying things they never did. The risk of video manipulation and deepfakes' supply to fake news led Facebook and Microsoft to join hands back in September 2019 to fight deepfakes. In December 2019, China even banned publishing and distribution of fake news which used artificial intelligence.


Deepfake Reaches Everyone

MyHeritage’s Deep Nostalgia is the closest everyone has come to making a "deepfake" within a minute.

The intention of the company as stated on their website’s FAQs is for nostalgic use, to bring beloved ancestors back to life. However, it is also aware of the results becoming controversial or the feature being used for creating "deepfake" videos.

Many have found the results of the feature to be magical. To see Rembrandt or Rosalind Franklin or their grandfather pose for a photograph could be a wonderful tool. But many still find it unnerving and creepy. The potential for video manipulation remains huge, which is why MyHeritage has not included speech to avoid exploitation of the feature.

Deepfake And Its Potential for Misuse

A day before the Delhi Elections took place in 2020, two videos were sent to 15 million voters via 5,800 WhatsApp groups. In the videos, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Manoj Tiwari was seen urging citizens to vote, in Haryanvi and English. The videos were "deepfakes."

Bappa Sinha, a technologist and CTO of Virtunet Systems said on Deep Nostalgia, "The technology behind Deep Nostalgia and more generally of deep fakes could be used maliciously for propaganda purposes." AI-driven machine learning ,too, has established its capability of writing articles and text that mimics human styles.

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Published: 02 Mar 2021,09:20 AM IST

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