This time last year, social media was blazing with MyHeritage’s viral “Deep Nostalgia,” whose AI magic animates our old family photos with disturbing realism. Well, if you get freaked out by it, wait until you see the new feature I just called LiveStory.
This time around, the technology of an online genealogy company isn’t creating a small clip of 10-20 clips based on an old photo of your relative. Instead, LiveStory goes further by creating a longer animated video of your ancestor that tells the story of his entire life, complete with lip-sync audio and a slideshow of old photos.
As before, it works by using AI-powered “re-enactment” technology that animates an image of your relative’s face. But this time you also get a voice that is automatically generated from the MyHeritage family tree or entered manually by you. Then text-to-speech technology brings the story to life and the voice is synchronized with the moving speaker of your relative.
How it works?
Like last year’s “Deep Nostalgia” technology, LiveStory’s animations are created using a large collection of “driver videos”. Once the service’s algorithms analyze the image you’ve uploaded, its salient features, or facial “features,” are then mapped to the driver’s video to create the impression of movement. Algorithms also fill in any missing details. The synthetic voice generator also creates a narration based on the information in the person’s profile, or you can create your own script from scratch. You can also upload your own audio recording.
MyHeritage and D-ID, the Israeli company that creates and licenses the technology, says the end result is fully customizable, giving you the ability to change narration, images, and audio before sending it to family or social media. LiveStory also appears to support 31 languages, dozens of dialects, and hundreds of voice characters, along with different male and female voice options.
Despite all of that, there’s no doubt that technology is a bit creepy and takes us on an even bigger journey into the uncanny valley. For some, adding audio might take things too far, and MyHeritage had to add some disclaimers to ensure the technology wasn’t being abused. It says that LiveStory “is only intended to be used on photographs of deceased persons, usually one’s ancestors” and that it “should never be used on a photograph of a living person without their permission.”
However, many on social media found that last year’s “deep nostalgia” technique was a comforting or even warming way to relationships they had never seen before in real life. Like this feature, LiveStory is currently available to try for free on desktop and mobile web (both via MyHeritage site) and in the MyHeritage mobile app. You can create several LiveStories for free, but after that you will need to pay for a subscription (from $119 / £89 per year).
Analysis: A bolder move into the uncanny valley
Just like last year’s “Deep Nostalgia,” we’re a little torn about MyHeritage’s new “LiveStory” feature. There’s no doubt that technology is great, and the fact that it can automatically generate a 90-second video bio from a photo, family tree, and some text is both impressive and terrifying.
However, we can’t help but feel that a large part of the technology’s previous viral success (which resulted in 100 million animations) is due to its accuracy. The moving faces that Deep Nostalgia produced would occasionally blink or tilt their heads, but that was the case – and this restriction helped create an illusion while masking the limitations of the technology.
Adding sound is a logical step, and no doubt will prove to be a popular tool for those who don’t get the chills from the undeniable creep factor. But from the examples we’ve seen so far, the intonation is sometimes automated and the fact that the sound isn’t sampled from the original makes it somewhat artificial.
Currently, LiveStory appears to be more suitable for museums or education, where its ability to bring to life historical figures (rather than personal relationships) could be a useful way to make history more engaging for visitors and children.
Of course, there is also potential for misuse, although D-ID (the maker of the technology) has set up some barriers to prevent this from happening. All users need to accept the terms, including a promise that they won’t use it on living people, before they can create a LiveStory. There is also a text-modification algorithm on board to check for offensive, defamatory or false information, although it is not clear how the latter is checked.
when We spoke to D-ID last year in an exclusive interviewWe’re impressed by her commitment to making sure that her AI technology isn’t used in nefarious ways, if also slightly annoyed by her prediction that the majority of the visual media we see online will be synthetic “within 5-10 years.” LiveStory is clearly one more step on the line. This track, if not the move, is the viral smash that was “deep nostalgia” last year.