Once users upload photos, the tool uses deep learning to animate them. These short soundless video simulations comprise gestures such as smiling, blinking and nodding. Over 10 million images have already been uploaded for Deep Nostalgia since its launch by genealogy website MyHeritage on February 25.
Actor and director Roshan Abbas tried it on photos of his and his wife’s grandfathers. “When I showed it to my 81-year-old father, he was amazed, while my wife’s parents had tears in their eyes.”
Kind of surreal to take a photo of the singularly inspiring Bhagat Singh — a revolutionary voice in 1920s India, w… https://t.co/1zrTs3bFYz
— Keerthik Sasidharan (@KS1729) 1614471055000
However, results can vary. Photographer and curator Anusha Yadav used the tool on multiple historical photos, including those of her late father. “It was an interesting trick, but I know that is not the way he looked or smiled,” says Yadav, who is the founder of the Indian Memory Project.
Nathaniel Gaskell, director of the Museum of Art and Photography, Bengaluru, says one of the positives of this tech is that it conjures up a distant past, and brings it into the present. “It’s good if it’s making people engage with archival photos and helping bring history to life,” he says. “However, it also takes away the role that imagination plays when you look at still photos.”
For many, the Deep Nostalgia images have evoked a mixture of wonder and dread. Technologist and writer Krish Ashok shared a coloured animation created from a black-and-white still photo of his father as a 16-year-old. “A lot of my family were stunned that it could bring people who have passed away to life for their grandchildren,” he says. “But this is one of those technologies that started out of what philosophers call ‘uncanny valley’, with reference to technologies that we find creepy when they get human but are not human enough.”
He’s also wary of the ways in which the technology can be potentially misused. “It is sold as Deep Nostalgia, but it is deep fake. The fact that you can generate a video of someone simply from a still photo, imagine doing this to a political figure?” says Ashok. “As with most breakthrough technologies, this can clearly be weaponised given the world of misinformation we live in.”
Yadav too adds a warning. “It is entertaining but there is a cost that it will be abused in the political arena and one should be prepared for that,” she says. Gaskell points to a need for visual literacy. “It is better that people understand that what they see is an interpretation.”