Deepfake footage of Nixon reading Apollo 'disaster' speech highlights misinformation dangers

'The men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace'

Louise Hall
Monday 20 July 2020 22:23 BST
Deepfake footage of Richard Nixon reacting to Apollo 'disaster'

A manipulated video of President Nixon’s Apollo 11 address to the nation has been released online to highlight the dangers of media misinformation.

The deepfake video uses deep-learning and artificial-intelligence technology to create doctored footage that depicts Nixon falsely announcing that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became stranded on the moon during the 1969 landing.

“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace,” a voice actor impersonating president Nixon says in the doctored video.

“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,” he continues.

“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.”

The seven-minute documentary, produced by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Centre for Advanced Virtuality, is titled “In Event of Moon Disaster” and brings to life the speech written by William Safire as a contingency in case the landing went awry.

In reality, Armstrong and Aldrin landed safely on the moon on 20 July, 1969, and later safely returned to earth alongside crewmate Michael Collins, meaning the speech was never used.

"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, told in a statement.

The documentary has been selected by several film festivals since its debut in 2019 as an art installation in a 1960s-era living room.

The new website allows anyone to view the video and provides resources surrounding deepfakes and the dangers they pose.

“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, also told the website in a statement.

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