TL;DR: Deepfakes technology has plenty of bad press, from creating revenge porn to putting words in politicians’ mouths, but it can be used for good if ever-so-slightly unnerving purposes: genealogy site MyHeritage is using an AI-powered tool to animate photos of long-dead relatives.
Called “Deep Nostalgia,” the service allows users to upload an image of a person or people so they can be brought to life using AI licensed from Israeli firm D-ID. Their heads swivel, eyes move and blink, and they even smile as if they’re posing for the photographs.
The artificial intelligence behind the tool uses an algorithm trained using pre-recorded videos of people moving their faces and adopting various gestures. It applies the most suitable ones to the uploaded photo being processed. Although the result might seem a little unsettling, plenty of users have praised the service after it brought life to long-gone family members.
This is my great-grandmother, Kathleen. I’ve always felt so close to her even though she died when I was 2 years old. This #DeepNostalgia video brought tears to my eyes to see her move, almost like seeing her as she was posing for this photo. Remarkable! #RootsTechConnect pic.twitter.com/ZRc41JOo3e
— Mike Quackenbush (@mikequack) February 26, 2021
While Deep Nostalgia could have the potential for misuse, the company writes that adding speech isn’t an option “in order to prevent abuse, such as the creation of deepfake videos of living people.”
— MyHeritage (@MyHeritage) February 28, 2021
If you’ve got any old photographs and would like to see their contents reanimated (faces only), MyHeritage is letting people try Deep Nostalgia without handing over any money. Just sign up for free and you can upload five photos that will be enhanced and turned into gifs. Uploading more than five requires a paid account.
MyHeritage, which a U.S. private equity firm is acquiring for around $600 million, writes in its FAQs that no photos will end up in the hands of third parties. It also assures people that “photos uploaded without completing signup are automatically deleted to protect your privacy.”