Deepfake tech used to bring dead relatives back to life
Genealogy company MyHeritage is putting deepfake technology to a creatively unsettling use with a new feature called Deep Nostalgia. The system animates photographs of long-deceased loved ones, turning old still portraits into uncanny blinking and smiling videos.
Deepfake technology has been rapidly evolving over the past few years and generally stoking conversations over how close we are to completely losing faith in the veracity of the images we encounter. So far, the technology is still in its infancy but MyHeritage is presenting a novel use of deepfakes, bringing to life still photographs of dead relatives.
Called Deep Nostalgia, the technology comes from Israel-based company D-ID. Users can upload old photographs of deceased relatives and the system automatically enhances the image before applying a deepfake algorithm to deliver a short animated video of the subject.
Within seconds a user is greeted with their ancestor smiling, blinking and moving their head. Several combinations of gestures can be selected by the user and multiple faces can be animated in the same photograph.
MyHeritage seems aware of the unsettling nature of the technology and openly admits Deep Nostalgia may not be for everyone. The company also notes it will not add speech features to its system to avoid the technology being abused by those wanting to easily create deepfake videos of living people.
"While many love the Deep Nostalgia feature and consider it magical, others find it uncanny and are uncomfortable with the results,” the company writes on its webpage. “Our driver videos don’t include speech in order to prevent abuse of this feature, such as the creation of 'deep fake' videos of living people. Please use this feature on your own historical photos, and not on photos featuring living people without their permission.”
The company says in the first 48 hours of offering the new feature more than one million photographs were animated. A blog post collecting a number of user experiences revealed many found the system “heartwarming” and “incredible”.
For those wanting to experiment with what it feels like seeing deceased relatives come back to life and smile, MyHeritage offers a limited amount of watermarked animations for free, while broader access to the feature of course comes at a price.
The unique use of deepfakes is undoubtedly a portent of things to come as this technology inevitably gets better and better. While most conversation around deepfakes has centered on either political or pornographic uses, it is not difficult to imagine a future where there are services offering bereaved individuals full video interactions with deceased loved ones.