In Event of Moon Disaster

We learned in this project that AI isn’t going to make artists obsolete (thankfully!), but will offer more and more powerful tools and techniques that artists will be able to take advantage of to expand their creative potential.

- MIT Open Learning/Center for Advanced Virtuality Team

Can you describe your project and the concept behind it?

In July 1969, much of the world celebrated the “giant leap for mankind” that the successful moon landing constituted. In 2020, nothing is quite so straightforward. In Event of Moon Disaster illustrates the possibilities of deepfake technologies by reimagining this seminal event. The immersive project invites you into this alternative history and asks us all to consider how new technologies can bend, redirect, and obfuscate the truth around us.

What influenced your chosen technical approach, and how did it go beyond past methods?

Using artificial intelligence to produce a deepfake of President Nixon was at the very core of our project concept, so our technical approach in some regards was decided right from the start. We wanted to show how synthetic media could be used to create disinformation as well as for new creative pursuits.

When did you experience a breakthrough or an "a-ha" moment during this project?

"After spending hours sifting through Nixon speech videos and painstakingly training an AI model to synthesize his voice, seeing Nixon actually deliver the contingency speech for the first time left us both incredibly excited as well as worried about the power of AI-based technologies. It was at that moment that we knew our project was going to work and be impactful. Not only was our idea possible, but it would — crucially — be believable."

What web technologies, tools, and resources did you use to develop this?

We built our site as a headless Wordpress installation using React and Gatsby. The result was a static and highly performant site that takes advantage of the flexibility of React to design the UI alongside the powerful Wordpress CMS to help manage the content. This combination has proven to be the best of both worlds for us.

How did the final product meet or exceed your expectations?

This was our first project using synthetic media, so we did not know what to expect, but we had high hopes. We were not disappointed by the quality of our “complete deepfake” and its believability when inserted into a plausible, yet entirely fabricated, narrative arc.

Why is this an exciting time to create new digital experiences? How does your team fit into this?

It is a cliche to say that AI is changing everything; but it is a cliche for a reason. We learned in this project that AI isn’t going to make artists obsolete (thankfully!), but will offer more and more powerful tools and techniques that artists will be able to take advantage of to expand their creative potential. Much like cyborgs, artists will increasingly be able to work in concert with AI-based technologies to create in new and exciting ways.

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