Nov 26, 2019 - Technology
Series / Misinformation age

In a deepfake, Nixon laments a catastrophe that wasn't

In a clip from a stunning new AI-manipulated video, President Nixon delivers a somber speech he never gave in real life, appearing to eulogize American astronauts left on the moon to die.

Why it matters: The video simultaneously shows the dangerous power of deepfake technology that can put words into the mouths of powerful leaders — and its potential to expand the boundaries of art.

What's happening: The video explores an alternate reality in which the Apollo 11 lander failed, stranding astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon.

  • In it, Nixon read the now-famous words that were written for him in 1969, but that he never said on TV: "Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace."
  • The two-minute excerpt above comes from a six-minute video that debuted last week at the International Film Festival Amsterdam. There, participants sat in a 1960s-era living room and watched the president deliver the ghost speech on TV.

How it works: Researchers at the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality recorded clips from a voice actor impersonating Nixon and produced AI-generated speech using technology from Respeecher, a Ukrainian company. The deepfake video, in which the president's mouth and face moves in perfect sync with the synthetic audio, was created by Israel's Canny AI.

What they're saying: “We hope that our work will spark critical awareness among the public," said Francesca Panetta, the project's director. "We want them to be alert to what is possible with today’s technology, to explore their own susceptibility, and to be ready to question what they see and hear as we enter a future fraught with challenges over the question of truth.”

Go deeper: A group of companies are trying to deploy deepfakes as a force for good

Go deeper