New AI App ‘Deep Nostalgia’ Brings Old Photos To Life

Service from MyHeritage uses deep learning technique to automatically animate faces

An AI-powered service called Deep Nostalgia that animates still photos has become the main character on Twitter this fine Sunday, as people try to create the creepiest fake “video” possible, apparently.

The Deep Nostalgia service, offered by online genealogy company MyHeritage, uses AI licensed from D-ID to create the effect that a still photo is moving. It’s kinda like the iOS Live Photos feature, which adds a few seconds of video to help smartphone photographers find the best shot.

But Deep Nostalgia can take photos from any camera and bring them to “life.” The program uses pre-recorded driver videos of facial movements and applies the one that works best for the still photo in question. Its intended purpose is to allow you to upload photos of deceased loved ones and see them in “action,” which seems like a lovely idea.

Like most “deepfakes” like “deepnude” – the name for the popular use of this technology to map one person’s face on to footage of another – the service is exceptionally good at smoothly animating features and expressions. But it can also struggle to generate data to fill in the “gaps” in what it can see from the source photos, causing a sense of the uncanny.

Users have to sign up for a free account on MyHeritage and then upload a photo. From there the process is automated; the site enhances the image before animating it and creating a gif. The site’s FAQ says it does not provide the photos to any third parties, and on its main page a message reads “photos uploaded without completing signup are automatically deleted to protect your privacy.”

Naturally, the program has become something of a meme-generator on Twitter, with users trying to push the AI to its limit. An archaeologist used photos of ancient statues, and yes they included some with the blank eyes. Sorry in advance for the nightmare fuel (but hiiii there Alexander the Great):

“Some people love the Deep Nostalgia feature and consider it magical, while others find it creepy and dislike it,” MyHeritage says about its technology. “Indeed, the results can be controversial and it’s hard to stay indifferent to this technology. This feature is intended for nostalgic use, that is, to bring beloved ancestors back to life. Our driver videos don’t include speech in order to prevent abuse of this, such as the creation of ‘deep fake’ videos of living people.”

Not every video created with the service is elegantly animated, or even good enough to be unsettling, of course. An animated version of the infamous bust of Ronaldo, for instance, is exactly as distressing as the static version:

And while the automatically produced videos of Deep Nostalgia are not likely to fool anyone into thinking they are real footage, more careful application of the same technology can be very hard to distinguish from reality.

Deep Nostalgia can only handle single headshots and can only animate faces, so you’re not going to be able to reanimate mummies to make it look like they’re walking (hey I wondered, OK?). You can upload five photos for free to the MyHeritage website for Deep Nostalgia treatment, after that you have to register for a paid account.

Last month, a new TikTok account named deeptomcruise racked up millions of views with a series of videos that are, it claims, deepfake versions of the actor talking to camera. The Cruise fakes are so accurate that many programmes designed to recognise manipulated media are unable to spot them.

  1. How does the Deep Nostalgia software illustrate the growing problem of deep fakes?
  2. What are the biggest trends in deep fakes at the moment?
  3. How can users protect themselves against being fooled by deep fakes?