Inside creepy AI that ‘brings the dead back to life’ by animating old images

CHERIE Bergman’s eyes widened as she met her father’s gaze for the first time since his tragic death eight years earlier.

With a single tap of her phone, Florida’s mother could see him blinking and smiling behind the screen as if he were alive yesterday.

MyHeritage uses deepfake technology to animate images of relatives


MyHeritage uses deepfake technology to animate images of relativesCredit: d-id

What really struck Cherie, 25, back in the heels was that this was not a repeat of an old video. This was something else.

She had uploaded a photo of her deceased parent to MyHeritage, an app that allows for the “resurrection” of the dead.

Using artificial intelligence, it creates short videos that breathe life into the motifs of portraits years or even centuries old.

Faces on images are braided over “driver” animations to make the person look as if they are nodding, smiling and more.

Based in Israel, MyHeritage acknowledges that some people find the feature “creepy”, while others find it “magical”.

The technology became famous after going viral last year and raises important questions about how far we let AI-modified video go.


Cherie, a mother of five based in Orlando, encountered Deep Nostalgia as she rolled through TikTok in March last year.

People shared videos where the technology brought to life images of historical figures who lived before the video era, such as Winston Churchill or Queen Victoria.

Cherie went viral after using the technology to change an image of her late father


Cherie went viral after using the technology to change an image of her late fatherCredit: Handout

Others uploaded their yawning reactions after using the technology to digitally resurrect dead relatives.

Cherie was inspired to try the tool for herself using a picture of her father, Rick, who died unexpectedly in 2013, aged 67.

What had once been a still image was suddenly alive, Rick blinked and took in his surroundings as if he were right there with her.

Cherie quickly showed her mother, six sisters and anyone else she could find.

“We were stunned,” she told The Sun. “It was literally like he was staring back at us. We were hysterical.”

The stay-at-home mom posted a video of her reaction to Riks’ “revival” to TikTok, which quickly went viral.

In the 5.5-second clip, which has garnered 5.5 million views, Cherie is visibly overwhelmed with a hand squeezed over her mouth in shock.

Video of Rick’s animation is then played along with text that reads, “I brought my dad back after eight years.”

Florida mother says the experience 'made my heart feel whole again'


Florida mother says the experience ‘made my heart feel whole again’Credit: Handout

While Cherie’s distorted face may be confused with anxiety, she says her response was closer to joy.

“It was not a sad feeling,” she explained. “It was an overwhelmingly happy feeling. It was like seeing him again.”

Another TikToker whose Deep Nostalgia experience went viral is 99-year-old American war veteran Jake Larson, who walks off “Papa Jake”.

After watching the technology on social media, his grandson filmed his reaction to an animated picture of his late wife, Lola.

The resulting video – which received 39 million views on TikTok – shows him dry tears away while overwhelmed with emotion.

“Holy smoker,” Papa Jake, who fought in the D-Day landing in 1944, said in the video. “She’s alive. I can not believe it.”

Lola died 32 years ago and the photo used in the video was taken for her high school diploma.

She was married to Papa Jake for almost six decades.

“I had tears in my eyes when she smiled at me,” said Jake, who has 470,000 TikTok followers, about seeing the video for the first time.

“It was as if someone from heaven came down and blessed me,” he told The Sun.

Jake's emotional response to an animated picture of his late wife Lola took the internet by storm last year


Jake’s emotional response to an animated picture of his late wife Lola took the internet by storm last year


MyHeritage’s eponymous app offers a range of family history services, including DNA testing and the ability to track your family tree.

By far its most popular tool, however, is Deep Nostalgia. It was built by the Tel Aviv company D-ID, which specializes in AI-powered video.

Since the launch of Deep Nostalgia in February 2021, MyHeritage says it has animated more than 100 million images.

At the height of its viral fame, it was the most downloaded app in the Apple App Store, treating thousands of faces per hour.

When a customer uploads an image, Deep Nostalgia zooms in on the subject’s face and enhances it.

Artificial intelligence mixes the face with short, recorded videos of a person moving his head and blinking his eyes.

It can even add bits. If your great-grandmother has her mouth closed on a picture, Deep Nostalgia can give her a toothy laugh.

The result is “a realistic depiction of how a person could have moved and looked if they were captured on video,” MyHeritage says.

Each clip is what is called a “deepfake”, an existing photo or video manipulated using AI to create realistic but completely fake events.

Deepfakes have sparked a lot of controversy since they emerged in 2017, and as technology evolves, things are likely to become more controversial.

Artificial intelligence explained

Here’s what you need to know

  • Artificial intelligence, also known as AI, is a type of computer software
  • Typically, a computer will do what you ask it to
  • But artificial intelligence simulates the human mind and can make its own deductions, conclusions or decisions
  • A simple computer can let you set an alarm to wake you up
  • But an AI system might scan your emails, figure out you have a meeting tomorrow, and then set up an alarm and plan a trip for you
  • AI technology is often “trained” – meaning it observes something (potentially even a human) and then learns about a task over time
  • For example, an AI system can be fed thousands of images of human faces and then generate images of human faces all on its own
  • Some experts have expressed concern that humans will eventually lose control of super-intelligent AI
  • But the technology world is still divided over whether AI technology will eventually kill us all in a Terminator-like apocalypse

They have already been used to make fake celebrity sex tapes and misleading videos of politicians saying things they have never said.

Deep Nostalgia is obviously a relatively harmless version of the technology, and it’s hard to see how it could be abused.

However, questions have been raised about how far it should be allowed to move forward.

Last year, MyHeritage said it had deliberately not included speech in the feature “to prevent abuse, such as the creation of deepfake videos of live people”.

In March, the U-turned to that decision, launching the ability to get revived faces to speak with a robotic voice that parrots text provided by the user.

In a speech to The Sun, Sarah Vanunu, MyHeritage’s director of Public Relations, admitted that the app does not have tools to prevent abuse.

The company is instead dependent on people choosing to use its services responsibly.

“You should use the feature on pictures you own and not on pictures with live people without their permission,” Vanunu said.

“It’s part of the terms and conditions that people have to read before doing anything else.”


According to experts, technology like Deep Nostalgia raises important questions for the future.

Sam Gregory, a leading voice in deepfakes and human rights, says clear rules on consent will be more important than ever as videos become increasingly difficult to distinguish from real footage.

“The technology for AI-generated deepfakes is improving rapidly,” he told The Sun.

“Many companies are launching ways to put words in the mouths of either digital avatars or filmed real people to get them to say something they’ve never said.

“It’s important to set the rules around consent and label deepfakes so we are not easily fooled when there is malicious use.”

Of course, the potential benefits of the technology can not be ignored. For people like Cherie, deepfakes have provided a degree of closure after the death of someone they loved.

“When Dad died, he was gone in Costa Rica,” she said. “He was completely to himself in a country far from home.

“Bringing this image to life made our hearts feel whole again.”

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