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MIT Creates Nixon Moon Landing Speech Using Deep Fake Technology

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We have a liftoff on Apollo 11.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So when Apollo 11 blasted off in 1969, the goal was to land men on the moon. It was a dangerous mission, so the White House prepared a speech just in case something went wrong. Recently, a video surfaced of President Richard Nixon apparently delivering that speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COMPUTERIZED VOICE #1: Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

GREENE: But President Nixon never actually read that speech. The video is an incredibly convincing fake.

FRANCESCA PANETTA: We wanted to make something that was extremely compelling, that opened discussion around how you identify what is real and what is fake.

GREENE: That is Francesca Panetta of the Center for Advanced Virtuality at MIT. Panetta and her colleague Halsey Burgund created the phony Nixon video to call attention to deepfakes.

HALSEY BURGUND: A deepfake is a piece of media, audio and/or video that has been manipulated using artificial intelligence to portray a person doing something, saying something or being in a situation that never actually occurred in reality.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COMPUTERIZED VOICE #1: Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

GREENE: This deepfake Nixon video took three months to create. MIT hired a voice actor to read the original speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEWIS D WHEELER: These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal - the search for truth and understanding.

GREENE: Then technicians used deepfake audio software to transform the actor's voice into Nixon's voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WHEELER: These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's...

COMPUTERIZED VOICE #1: ...Most noble goal - the search for truth and understanding.

GREENE: That fake audio was combined with video from Nixon's resignation speech. Computer whizzes manipulated the video so Nixon's mouth would sync up with the fake audio, and the end result is really startling. But Panetta and Burgund say fake videos don't have to be this good to do damage.

BURGUND: A few months back, a video of Nancy Pelosi was edited in a very, very simple way. We call it a cheap fake rather than deepfake. It was simply slowed down, and it made her sound somewhat drunk and unable to really function.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COMPUTERIZED VOICE #2: We want to give this president the opportunity to do something historic for our country.

BURGUND: This simple clip went around like wildfire on the Internet, and everybody who wanted to believe that Nancy Pelosi is incompetent, you know, pointed to it as evidence of that. By the time it came out that this was a manipulated video, it's kind of too late in some ways.

PANETTA: And it's hard to unbelieve something. So once you've seen something, tests show it's hard to kind of erase that from your memory. But actually, there is an even bigger problem - trust. What does a society look like where you can deny anything is true? So you can point to any piece of media and say, prove it. It might be a deepfake. And it means that we end up in this incredibly fragile society where you can deny everything.

GREENE: That's Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund. Their deepfake Richard Nixon video can be seen on the website moondisaster.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.