Respeecher Makes Richard Nixon’s Moon Landing Disaster Speech A Reality
On July 20, 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle landing module and set foot on the surface of the moon, becoming the first person to walk on its surface. The next moment he uttered the famous phrase “That’s one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.” On July 21, the Apollo 11 astronauts returned to the Eagle module, closed the hatch, and took off from the surface of the moon to the spacecraft with which they would dock before heading home. On July 24, 1969, Apollo 11 successfully landed in the Pacific Ocean. It was the first of five successful flights to the moon.
But imagine if the landing on the moon’s surface would have ended completely differently…
As it turns out, the United States government had already considered such a scenario and prepared a special speech that former US president Richard Nixon was intended to read in the event of the mission’s failure. Luckily, he never had to read it.
But in 2020, the world was introduced to the short documentary film In Event of Moon Disaster. The film was honored with the Emmy Award for Interactive Media Documentary in an online ceremony on September 29, 2021. And in this documentary, we can see and hear Nixon informing the world of the disastrous failure of Apollo’s moon landing mission.
How and why was it made?
Of course, this was not a real documentary. The film was made using deepfake technology. It allowed for the creation of both an alternate reality where one of humanity’s most epic achievements ends in disaster, and a warning to viewers of the dangers of deepfakes.
“The idea, in the beginning, was to address misinformation and disinformation,” said Pakinam Amer, a senior writer on the project.
“We wanted to create an alternate history to show the impact of creating a convincing version of reality, one that wasn’t necessarily true,” she adds.
The film uses AI to explore an imagined reality where Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin die while on their mission to the Moon.
The film is based on archival footage from NASA and takes viewers on a journey aboard Apollo 11. The film is made in a way that makes viewers think that the spacecraft malfunctioned and crashed.
Editing the video didn’t require advanced skills and technology. But the main part of the film featuring Richard Nixon’s speech had to be delivered from the White House.
The most critical part of the project was to create a realistic digitally manipulated Nixon that could speak naturally, with his own voice.
This is where Respeecher stepped in to lend a hand.
The film was co-directed by Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund at the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality. The digital Richard Nixon was created by Tel Aviv-based Canny AI. And the voice of the 37th President was generated by Respeecher’s engineers.
To ensure every detail came out in the best way possible, Respeecher needed two things:
1. Old recordings of Richard Nixon’s voice.
2. A recording of the script the President never actually delivered.
MIT hired an actor to impersonate Nixon’s speaking style, pronouncing certain words longer than others and making strategic pauses to add solemnity.
Using a deep neural net, Respeecher’s engineers added Nixon’s vocal timber on top of the actor’s performance, thus creating a deepfake audio recording. To anyone listening, the synthetic voice sounds natural and is indistinguishable from the original.
Unlike text-to-speech conversions, which often sound artificial, Respeecher’s technology helps preserve emotional speech patterns.
“Our goal was to make the quality on that level where it would be satisfactory for high-demanding sound professionals in Hollywood,” says Alex Serdiuk, CEO of Respeecher
The full deepfake speech can be viewed at Moondisaster.org.
Dangers of a Deepfake Reality
As previously mentioned, the project was not just an opportunity to do something really cool with advanced technology, but also to showcase some of the hidden dangers of these technologies.
Deepfakes and voice cloning raises a number of ethical questions. In Event of Moon Disaster reveals the impact of technology on the spread of disinformation among the masses.
In order to prevent such cases, Respeecher created a set of rules both they and their clients should follow.
- Respeecher does not allow any use of our technology that can be interpreted as deceptive.
- Respeecher does not use voices without permission when this could impact the privacy of the subject or their ability to make a living.
- Respeecher does not provide any public API for creating new voices.
- Respeecher works directly with clients we trust.
- Respeecher requires written consent from voice owners.
- Respeecher only approves projects that meet our strict standards.
- Respeecher is developing watermarking technology that allows us to easily tell Respeecher-generated content from other content, even if it is disguised by being mixed in with other audio.
We believe that technology isn’t inherently bad. When used properly, technology can produce amazing results that inspire everyone around us.
This article was initially published on the Respeecher case studies page.