MyHeritage's New Deepfake Tool Brings the Dead to Life in 'Creepy' Videos

Nostalgia just entered the uncanny valley.
Brad Bergan

The genealogy site MyHeritage debuted a new AI tool capable of turning photos of deceased relatives into unnerving videos.

MyHeritage's new deepfake tool brings the dead to life in 'creepy' videos

Called DeepNostalgia, the new feature uses tech developed by an Israeli tech firm called D-ID. According to MyHeritage, several drivers work together to animate the faces.

"Each driver is a video consisting of a fixed sequence of movements and gestures. Deep Nostalgia can very accurately apply the drivers to a face in your still photo, creating a short video that you can share with your friends and family. The driver guides the movements in the animation so you can see your ancestors smile, blink, and turn their heads."

While it's tempting to upload images of deceased relatives or long-lost friends, it's an uncomfortable proposition to digitally resurrect or reanimate a person's face without their consent.

MyHeritage has said the DeepNostalgia tool doesn't create speech — to stop people from creating actionable deepfake videos. But the company has created a voice for a reanimated Abraham Lincoln, used as a promotional video.

Mixed reactions to MyHeritage's Deep Nostalgia feature

However, even if MyHeritage's new feature could create speech for people in photos, it would not reflect the personality of the real person. AI imitating real humans is no better than an impersonation of that person. No matter how skilled the impersonator, it can never really be the real deal.

"This feature is intended for nostalgic use, that is, to bring beloved ancestors back to life," said MyHeritage in its FAQs about the new feature. But the company also admitted that "some people love the Deep Nostalgia feature and consider it magical, while others find it creepy and dislike it."

"The results can be controversial, and it's hard to stay indifferent to this technology."

Deepfake AI models

Deepfake models are computer-generated and AI-driven videos capable of simulating the animation of real people from an existing photo.

On MyHeritage's site, historical figures like Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria are reanimated for all to view. But people have already started posting pics of their reanimated ancestor videos on Twitter, to mixed reactions. Some said the results were "amazing" and "emotional," but others weren't so thrilled.

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Beyond the issues of creepiness and basic ethics of creating videos of other people without their consent, there are also political issues. In December, the U.K.'s Channel 4 generated a deepfake Queen who gave an alternative Christmas message — as a performative warning to the public on how deepfake technology might be used to spread fake news.

However satisfying the nostalgic experience for users of this new feature, there is growing concern about the potential misapplication of deepfakes for unfriendly ends.

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