MyHeritage Deep Nostalgia app: how to use the animation tool on old family photos - and deepfakes explained

Genealogy site MyHeritage has introduced a new feature called ‘Deep Nostalgia’, which can animate old family photos.

The service is free to use and quickly took off on Twitter, where people applied the feature to hundreds of different photographs, as well as some paintings and drawings.

Some have branded the service “creepy”, while others have enjoyed seeing late family members or public figures come back to life through the animations.

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How does it work?

Some users have called the technology "creepy".

Launched in late February, Deep Nostalgia uses an Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology known as “deep learning” to animate the faces of people in photographs.

The results are known as “deepfakes” - a technology which has taken flight in recent years, with Channel 4 producing a deepfake of an alternative Queen’s Christmas message in 2020.

The technology is able to map one person’s face onto footage of another, and can sometimes do this so smoothly that the results are very realistic.

Deep Nostalgia brings people’s faces to life through animation, giving them changing expressions and making them appear to look around and blink.

Sometimes, however, the results can be more patchy if the technology struggles to fill “gaps” in what it can gather from the original images used.

How can I use it?

To use the tool, you need to go to the MyHeritage website and sign up for a free account.

You’ll then be able to upload a photo of your choice to the service, which will animate it for you. The quality of the result will depend on the quality of the actual photo.

What are the wider implications of this technology?

Many internet users have called the new technology “creepy”, given it is intended to be used on photos of people who are long dead.

On Twitter, people have used the technology on the likes of Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Marie Curie, with varying results.

While Deep Nostalgia is simply intended as a fun tool for people to animate old family photos, many experts are becoming concerned about the increased sophistication of deepfake technology, which is rapidly becoming more realistic.

Once a prerogative of animation experts, deepfake technology is now much more accessible to the public through channels like MyHeritage or even Snapchat.

Deepfakes can be used to spread misinformation, with bad actors using the technology to make politicians or other public personas appear to be saying or doing things that they did not actually do.

Additionally, deepfakes are sometimes used in abusive ways, with abusers taking images of people and transposing them into explicit images or videos.

Currently, there is no law in the UK to make this kind of behaviour illegal, piling greater distress on its victims.

“Some people love the Deep Nostalgia feature and consider it magical, while others find it creepy and dislike it,” MyHeritage said of their 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.”