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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? 

The Idea

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 Challenge

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 Implementation

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. 

  1. Respeecher does not allow any use of our technology that can be interpreted as deceptive.

  2. Respeecher does not use voices without permission when this could impact the privacy of the subject or their ability to make a living.

  3. Respeecher does not provide any public API for creating new voices.

  4. Respeecher works directly with clients we trust.

  5. Respeecher requires written consent from voice owners.

  6. Respeecher only approves projects that meet our strict standards.

  7. 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.

Reviews

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Halsey Burgund

Co-Director In Event of Moon Disaster

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Ryan Steelberg

President and co-founder of Veritone

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David Romberg

Media, Communication & Film Studies, Muhlenberg College

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Abigail Savage

Sound Designer and Supervisor, Actress

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Michael York

Actor, Producer

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Tim Jones

Emmy Award Winning Animation Producer

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Joseph López Osorio

Marketing Technology Director, DDB Latina

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Edgardo Rivera

President & CEO, DDB Puerto Rico

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Joshua Madoff

Composer, Actor

We worked with Respeecher on a film called ‘In Event of Moon Disaster’ first shown at the Amsterdam Documentary Film Festival 2019. They helped us create a synthetic voice of Richard Nixon to bring to life a never-read contingency speech in case the Apollo 11 mission went badly. We created a highly realistic film, in a large part due to their work. ‘In Event of Moon Disaster’ shows the creative possibility of voice replacement technology as well as highlighting just how realistic deepfake technologies can be, acting as a civic engagement project for the public along with contextual and educational resources.
For Veritone, the most important thing is ensuring our clients get access to technology without compromising on the ability to protect, the delivery speed and quality, and in this case, of the generated content. Respeecher's technology meets both requirements and has a proven track record of working with tier one projects.
When I approached the team at Respeecher with a very sensitive and personal documentary project, I didn't know what to expect. I’m happy to say that it has been an amazing experience. They are extremely professional, ethically minded and are genuinely passionate about bringing their innovative technology to the world. Their approach to the voice cloning process is highly personal and transparent. As a documentarian, it was important to me that the approach was ethical and human focused. The Team at Respeecher delivered on their promises and I could not be happier with the results.
Respeecher is a remarkable tool for Sound Editors. It delivers very high-fidelity recreations of a target voice, with transparent performance-matching of its source. It blows text-to-speech out of the water! The effect is uncanny and incredibly effective and I can imagine a whole slew of uses going forward. I am very excited to have discovered Respeecher, and it will be my go-to for voice recreation in the future, without question.
I am very grateful to Respeecher for giving my words and work a whole new lease on life. The technique involved is as ingenious as it is amazing, and promises a great future for all those involved in voice work. With Respeecher, the quality of the re-worked passages is indistinguishable from the original. History comes almost miraculously alive again. I heartily endorse this product.
Respeecher's source/target conversion of Mr. York's speaking voice demonstrably opens doors for the entertainment, education, and healthcare fields. Suffice it to say, it was an absolute honor to collaborate with them. Their brilliant accomplishment and timely delivery have allowed our humble project to be a success, exceeding our expectations for what's even possible.
Discovering Respeecher was the highlight of our project. They agreed to work with the task even when our training data was not of the best quality. The result was fantastic, and the level of detail was just outstanding.
Working with Reespecher was a unique experience. Their attentiveness to detail and dedication to this project allowed us to reconnect with one of our lost narration idols in Puerto Rico "Manuel Rivera Morales" on a new level. It gave his family and PR a glimpse of what could have been if he was still alive and narrating all sorts of Olympic sports games. It was truly magical to see this project come alive.
Working with Respeecher has been incredible. Their team was meticulous and patient, walking us through the process of developing an accurate model... and the final result was nothing short of miraculous. It really sounds like we’re hearing our (deceased) subject speaking again. Something I never would have thought was possible.
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