But an AI-generated likeness of him shines new light on a quickly evolving technology with sizable implications, both creative and destructive, for our current digital information ecosystem. Starting in 2019, media artists Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology teamed up with two AI companies, Canny AI and Respeecher, to create a posthumous deepfake. The synthetic video shows Nixon giving a speech he never intended to deliver—half a century after the subject it addresses.
Here’s the (real) backstory: In July 1969, as the Apollo 11 astronauts glided through space on their trajectory toward the moon, William Safire, then one of Nixon’s speechwriters, wrote “In Event of Moon Disaster” as a contingency. The speech is a beautiful homage to Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the two astronauts who descended to the lunar surface—never to return in this version of history. It ends by saying, “For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”
The full deepfake speech can be viewed at https://moondisaster.org.