Picture this: You’ve just downloaded an old family shot of your great-grandmother on the MyHeritage site. Suddenly, that black and white image moves, blinks, and gives you a knowing smile.
Welcome to the latest innovation in image manipulation. Called Deep Nostalgia, this feature animates once static images for incredibly lifelike movements. Permitted on the site only for “historical photos” (aka, no living people), the Deep Nostalgia tool is supposed to deepen family connections.
“You’ll have a ‘wow moment’ when you see a treasured family photo come to life with Deep Nostalgia,” Gilad Japhet, the founder and CEO of MyHeritage, said in a statement. “Seeing our beloved ancestors’ faces come to life in a video simulation lets us imagine how they might have been in reality, and provides a profound new way of connecting to our family history.”
Deep Nostalgia already went viral on TikTok, where various kids of older parents colorized and animated old family portraits, then posted their parents’ reactions. Some family members have been moved to tears.
Visit the MyHeritage site, and you can get an idea of this impact, watching famous people like Queen Victoria and Albert Einstein move and seemingly emote. It’s eerie and very convincing, sort of a combination of Victorian death photography and the live action photos in Harry Potter.
Is the Deep Nostalgia Tool Safe?
Deep Nostalgia uses video driver technology to create completely realistic movements within photographs. It doesn’t use speech (a supposed safeguard against abuse), and all the photos are completely shareable on social media. And, as mentioned above, it’s only supposed to be used on images of dead people — although how MyHeritage controls that is a bit mysterious.
The actual tech wasn’t invented by MyHeritage, but by a company called D-ID. It calls it Reenactment Technology, and while it’s used for still photos, the company also offers full video applications. An example: using the tech for reenactments in a documentary, or when a participant wants to remain anonymous.
The danger, though, comes with the potential of deepfakes: dubious video or photo representations so real that they fool experts. That is, indeed, the epitome of fake news.
“We worked really hard with MyHeritage to make sure our technology couldn’t be misused or manipulated. There are a limited, designated number of ‘driver’ face movements, so consumers can’t make their own,” D-ID co-founder Gil Perry explained to Parentology. “In addition, every video is watermarked, so it’s clear where it came from. On top of that, we made sure not to include any audio or speech capabilities, which could have been used in a disrespectful manner.”
The future holds possible government regulation on this technology. D-ID is part of an open group, including regulators, to build ethical policy. And, a partner like MyHeritage is supposed to use the tech in a way that’s consistent with D-ID’s values.
Most Deepfakes Aren’t That Sophisticated
The splashiest political deepfake, which was circulated first on a Facebook group and was snarkily shared by Rudy Guiliani, featured Nancy Pelosi. Her audio was slowed by 25% and edited, so that she appeared to be slurring her words.
According to a feature on Creative Blog, “Facebook initially refused to remove the clip but said it had reduced its distribution after it was fact-checked as false. The post was later deleted but it’s unclear who by. The case illustrates the kind of misuse people fear could be made of tech presented by Stanford University in June that allows audio in a video to be edited as easily as a text document.”
Another, highly sophisticated deepfake featured three videos displaying Tom Cruise — except it wasn’t Cruise at all. That particular deepfake project, however, took many weeks of hard work using complex software, hardly something just anyone could, or would desire, to pull off.
Like the face-swapping app Reface/Doublicat, Deep Nostalgia can’t be used for deepfakes. According to Perry, “What we are offering actually isn’t ‘deepfake’ — which involves swapping faces in order to deceive. Our Live Portrait product simply brings existing faces to life, and we make sure that the context is very clear. In fact, the response to our Deep Nostalgia technology has been incredibly positive. When we looked at sentiment around Deep Nostalgia on Twitter, for example, only 5% of people’s responses were negative.”
Even though true deepfakes aren’t possible, D-ID has policies in place.”…this is something we take very seriously. In addition to the various forms of protections I mentioned earlier, we will not work in the political realm, or with potential unethical uses or bad actors. We always ensure that the consumer is well aware of the use of our technology, through watermarks, warnings or simply by context,” Perry says.
So, while the Deep Nostalgia tool is currently a mere value-added feature in a much larger context of discovering your family tree, you should always use caution when posting new tech online. One way to enjoy the feature safely: Don’t post it on social media.