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AI ‘brings the dead back to life’ by animating old photos

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Cherie Bergman’s eyes bulged as she met her father’s gaze for the first time since his tragic death eight years earlier.

With a tap of his phone, the Florida mum could see him blinking and smiling behind the screen as if he had been alive the day before.

What really upset Cherie, 25, was that it wasn’t a replay of an old video. It was something different.

She had uploaded a photo of her late relative to MyHeritage, an app that offers the ability to “wake” the dead.

Using artificial intelligence, he creates short videos that bring life to the subjects of portraits years or even centuries old.

The faces in the images are merged onto “pilot” animations to make it look like the person is nodding, smiling, and more.

Israel-based MyHeritage acknowledges that some people find the feature “scary” while others call it “magical”.

The technology rose to fame after going viral last year and raises important questions about how far we let AI-edited video go.

“I was hysterical”

Cherie, an Orlando-based mother of five, came across Deep Nostalgia while browsing TikTok last March.

Cherie Bergman tried out the technology in a photo of her father, Rick, who died suddenly in 2013.
Handout

People were sharing videos in which technology brought photos to life of historical figures who lived before the age of video, like Winston Churchill or Queen Victoria.

Others have uploaded their stunned reactions after using technology to digitally resurrect deceased relatives.

Cherie was inspired to try the tool herself using a photo of her father, Rick, who died suddenly in 2013 at the age of 67.

What had once been a still image was suddenly alive, Rick blinking and surveying his surroundings as if he were right there with her.

Cherie quickly showed her mother, her six sisters and anyone else she could find.

“We were blown away,” she told The Sun. “It was literally like he was looking at us. We were hysterical.

The stay-at-home mom posted a video of her reaction to Rick’s “waking up” to TikTok that quickly went viral.

In the 15-second clip, which has garnered 5.5 million views, Cherie is visibly overwhelmed, one hand clutched over her mouth in shock.

Video of Rick’s animation is then released, along with the following text: “I brought my father back after eight years.”

Cherie Bergman could see her father blinking and smiling behind the screen.
Handout

Although Cherie’s twisted face could be mistaken for anguish, she says her response was closer to joy.

“It wasn’t a sad feeling,” she explained. “It was an extremely happy feeling. It was like seeing him once again.”

Another TikToker whose Deep Nostalgia experience has gone viral is 99-year-old American war veteran Jake Larson, who calls himself “Papa Jake.”

After seeing the tech on social media, her granddaughter filmed her reaction to an animated photo of her late wife, Lola.

The resulting video – which has racked up 39 million views on TikTok – shows him wiping away tears as he is overcome with emotion.

“Holy smokes,” Papa Jake, who fought in the 1944 D-Day landings, says in the video. “She’s alive. I can’t believe it.

Lola died 32 years ago and the image used in the video was taken for her high school graduation.

She was married to Papa Jake for almost six decades.

“I had tears in my eyes when she smiled at me,” Jake, who has 470,000 followers on TikTok, said of seeing the video for the first time.

“It was like someone from heaven had come down and blessed me,” he told The Sun.

Image from the MyHeritage app.
Since launching Deep Nostalgia in February 2021, MyHeritage has animated over 100 million photos.
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CUTE BUT SCARY

MyHeritage’s eponymous app offers a range of family history services, including DNA testing and the ability to trace your family tree.

However, its most popular tool by far is Deep Nostalgia. It was built by Tel Aviv-based company D-ID, which specializes in AI-powered video.

Since launching Deep Nostalgia in February 2021, MyHeritage claims to have animated over 100 million photos.

At the height of its viral fame, it was the most downloaded app on Apple’s App Store, processing thousands of faces per hour.

When a customer uploads a photo, Deep Nostalgia zooms in on the subject’s face and enhances it.

Image from the MyHeritage app.
The footage is merged with recorded video of a person moving their head and blinking their eyes.
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The artificial intelligence merges the face with short recorded videos of a person moving their head and blinking their eyes.

It can even add bits. If your great-grandmother has her mouth shut in a photo, Deep Nostalgia can give her a toothy smile.

The result is “a realistic representation of how a person might have moved and looked if captured on video,” says MyHeritage.

Each clip is what is called a “deepfake”, an existing photo or video manipulated using AI to create realistic but entirely fake events.

Deepfakes have caused a lot of controversy since they emerged in 2017 and as technology advances things will likely become more controversial.

Image from the MyHeritage app.
In March, MyHeritage launched the ability to make reanimated faces speak with a robotic voice.
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ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE EXPLAINED

Here’s what you need to know

  • Artificial intelligence, also known as AI, is a type of computer software
  • Typically, a computer will do what you tell it to do.
  • But artificial intelligence simulates the human mind and can make its own deductions, inferences or decisions
  • A simple computer can let you set an alarm to wake you up
  • But an artificial intelligence system can analyze your emails, determine that you have a meeting tomorrow, then set an alarm and plan a trip for you.
  • AI technology is often “trained” – meaning it observes something (potentially even a human) and then learns a task over time
  • For example, an AI system can be fed thousands of photos of human faces and then generate photos of human faces on its own.
  • Some experts have raised concerns that humans will eventually lose control of super-intelligent AI
  • But the tech world is still divided on whether AI technology will eventually kill us all in a Terminator-style apocalypse.

They have already been used to create fake sex tapes of celebrities and misleading videos of politicians saying things they never said.

Deep Nostalgia is obviously a relatively harmless version of the technology, and it’s hard to see how it could be misused.

However, questions have been raised as to how far it should be allowed to go.

Last year, MyHeritage said it deliberately did not include speech in the feature “to prevent abuse, such as creating deepfake videos of living people”.

In March, it reversed that decision, launching the ability to have reanimated faces speak with a robotic voice that parrots user-supplied text.

Speaking to The Sun, Sarah Vanunu, director of public relations at MyHeritage, admitted that the app lacks tools to prevent abuse.

Instead, the company relies on people choosing to use its services responsibly.

“You are supposed to use the feature on photos you own and not on photos showing living people without their permission,” Vanunu said.

“It’s part of the terms and conditions that people are supposed to read before doing anything else.”

Image from the MyHeritage app.
The technology of AI-generated deepfakes is improving rapidly.
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DANGEROUS TREND?

According to experts, a technology like Deep Nostalgia raises important questions for the future.

Sam Gregory, a leading voice on deepfakes and human rights, says clear rules on consent will be more important than ever as videos become increasingly difficult to distinguish from real images.

“The technology for AI-generated deepfakes is improving rapidly,” he told The Sun.

“Many companies are launching ways to put words in the mouths of digital avatars or real people on film to make them say something they’ve never said.

“It is important to define the rules around consent and to label deepfakes so that we are not easily fooled into malicious uses.”

Of course, the potential benefits of technology cannot be ignored. For people like Cherie, deepfakes provided a degree of closure after the death of someone they cared about.

“When dad passed away, he was away in Costa Rica,” she said. “He was completely alone in a country far from home.

“Bringing this photo to life brought our hearts back to life.”

This story originally appeared on The sun and has been reproduced here with permission.

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