Apollo 11 ‘Disaster’ Video Shows How the Media Manipulates Using Deepfake Tech

President Richard Nixon’s televised speech to the public half a century ago today, July 20th, would have begun like this, in the event the lunar landing attempt of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were to fail:

“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.”

In the terrifying video, Nixon would have continued: “In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood. Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.”

Looking so Real That is Terrifying

You can watch Nixon reading these words, which were written by William Safire, in this disturbing video. The most terrifying thing about it, though, is that it is fake and a very convincing one.

The new footage is part of a digital narrative project developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Center for Advanced Virtuality called ‘In Event of Moon Disaster.’ That was actually the title of Safire’s Apollo 11 contingency speech, which would have been read and broadcasted is the mission would not have succeeded. 

The project takes the speech and brings it back into the light, making it the focus of a complete deepfake, one with manipulated audio and video.

The seven-minute footage begins with real Apollo 11 video, which team members edited masterfully to create the idea that the Moon landing failed. Then comes Nixon’s speech, actually read by a voice actor, but you’d never know it. The team used deep-learning and AI tech to reproduce Nixon’s voice and facial movements to the maximum extent.

Manipulated Media is Everywhere

This project is not something made for fun. The team wanted to show the world the danger of media misinformation, which is already extremely profound and will only grow as deepfake tech improves.

“This alternative history shows how new technologies can obfuscate the truth around us, encouraging our audience to think carefully about the media they encounter daily,” project co-leader Francesca Panetta, XR Creative Director at MIT Virtuality, said in a statement.

‘In Case of Moon Disaster’ launched last year as an art installation, which showcased a reproduction of a 1960-era living room. The project has been selected by a few film festivals, and it received a Creative Media Award from the Mozilla Foundation.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques were used to manipulate audio and video, making it seem as if President Nixon actually gave the Apollo 11 contingency speech. [Image: MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality]
The team just created a website that presents the video, explains how it was made, and provides more detail regarding deepfake tech and the risks it poses.

“It’s our hope that this project will encourage the public to understand that manipulated media plays a significant role in our media landscape, and that with further understanding and diligence we can all reduce the likelihood of being unduly influenced by it,” project co-leader Halsey Burgund, a fellow at MIT Open Documentary Lab, said in the same statement.

Not long ago, in April, another video made the world cringe: Pope Francis suddenly disappeared after giving his appeal, looking like it was actually a hologram or some sort of digital technology, which made people all over the globe rethink what they actually know about media and the world for that matter.

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