An Eerie Historical Deepfake Imagines Nixon Telling the World the Moon Landing Failed
A team of scientists used A.I. to create a convincing facsimile of a historical speech that never happened, and put the threat of fake information front and center
Even from a distance, you recognize the voice: pugnacious, portentous, with that famous bulldog growl. It’s Nixon, without a doubt. Then you see the TV screen showing the most reviled president of the 20th century at his desk in the Oval Office, flanked by flags, giving an address to the nation.
But it isn’t quite right; Nixon seems to be saying something about dead astronauts. “These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery,” he intones gravely. “But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.” Double take doesn’t quite do it: even for Tricky Dicky, this is a turn-up for the books.
The footage, of course, is faked — more accurately, deepfaked. The speech is authentic, in a way: it was written for Nixon 40 years ago by one of his speechwriters, William Safire, in the eventuality that the first moon landing failed and the Apollo 11 landing crew was lost. As all of us know, the words were never delivered. Armstrong and Aldrin landed and made it safely back to Earth; indeed, Nixon was there to greet them after splashdown, on board a U.S. Navy ship in the middle of the Pacific.
The finished thing is not only eerily convincing; it aims to make us reconsider what we think of as historical truth.
The video footage of Nixon reading the speech is a hoax cooked up by creatives at MIT’s Center for Advanced Virtuality, who recently put it on display at the IDFA documentary festival in Amsterdam. Entitled “In Event of Moon Disaster,” it’s a tour de force of high-tech fakery. Working alongside technicians in Israel and…