Creepy Apollo 11 Nixon deepfake video created by MIT to show dangers of high-tech misinformation


Scientists at MIT have digitally manipulated video and audio to create a creepy deepfake of President Nixon “delivering” a speech that would have been used in the event of an Apollo 11 disaster.

Written in 1969, the contingency speech was to be used if NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were unable to return from the moon.

The video is part of a project entitled “In Event of Moon Disaster” that aims to highlight the dangers of deepfakes, which use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to create false, but realistic-looking clips.

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Doctored videos have been in the spotlight recent years. In 2019, for example, video clips of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, were manipulated to falsely depict her as drunk, sparking outrage.

The deepfake video was created to “show” President Nixon delivering a contingency speech that was to be used in the event of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming stranded on the moon.
(MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality)

“In Event of Moon Disaster” is part of what MIT describes as a “digital storytelling project.” The initiative is the brainchild of MIT’s Center for Advanced Virtuality.

By harnessing AI and machine learning, scientists merged Nixon’s face with the movements of an actor reading the speech that, thankfully, was never delivered. MIT also worked with voice conversion technology specialist Respeecher to produce synthetic speech. AI specialist Canny AI helped replicate the movement of Nixon’s mouth and lips, according to a statement released by MIT.

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“Media misinformation is a longstanding phenomenon, but, exacerbated by deepfake technologies and the ease of disseminating content online, it’s become a crucial issue of our time,” said D. Fox Harrell, professor of digital media and of artificial intelligence at MIT and director of the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality, in the statement.

AI and machine learning was used to merge President Nixon's face with the movements of an actor reading a speech Nixon never actually delivered. (MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality)

AI and machine learning was used to merge President Nixon’s face with the movements of an actor reading a speech Nixon never actually delivered. (MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality)

“In Event of Moon Disaster” previewed last fall as an art installation at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, where it was awarded the Special Jury Prize for Digital Storytelling. It was also selected for the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival and Cannes XR.

As part of the project, Scientific American has also produced a new documentary, “To Make a Deepfake,” which uses “In Event of Moon Disaster” to explain deepfakes.

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The “Moon Disaster” Nixon speech was written by presidential speechwriter William Safire, according to Space.com. The speech was delivered to Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, and is now at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif.

In 2018, former NASA astronaut Frank Borman told Fox News that he was also involved in preparing the speech.

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Assigned by NASA to be the liaison with the White House for the moon landing, the Apollo 8 and Gemini 7 astronaut Borman was watching on TV with Nixon as Armstrong took his historic first steps on the lunar surface. Borman was also present in the White House when Nixon called the Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. The president described the call as the most historic telephone call ever made from the White House.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers





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