President Richard M. Nixon is shown here in 1969 in the "Pacific recovery area" welcoming the quarantined Apollo 11 astronauts -- Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin -- aboard the USS Hornet. (Credit: NASA)LC-
Digital technology is making it ever harder to separate fact from fiction online, and this could start to impact not just key events in the here and now -- such as a presidential election -- but also the past.
To showcase the dangers posed by so-called “deep fakes,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Advanced Virtuality has created a video of a nationwide broadcast in which President Richard Nixon announces that the Apollo 11 astronauts had been stranded on the moon and would die there.
“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace,” Nixon says in the video. He adds: “Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.”
Of course Nixon never gave this address.
In the run-up to the 1969 Apollo 11 moonshot, a speech was prepared for the president in the event the mission went catastrophically awry. Nixon didn’t need the speech because the landing was a success and astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins returned safely to Earth.
But if you didn’t know the real history, the MIT center’s 6-minute video “In the Event of Moon Disaster” might cause you to embrace the absurd but long-standing conspiracy theory that posits the moon landing was staged.
The center’s director, D. Fox Harrell, said MIT has posted the manipulated audio and video because misinformation has “become a crucial issue of our time” and people need to understand how it’s done and, with today’s advanced technology, how easy it is to pull off.
Added the project’s mixed-reality creative director Francesca Panetta in a release from MIT News:
“This alternative history shows how new technologies can obfuscate the truth around us, encouraging our audience to think carefully about the media they encounter daily.”
“In the Event of Moon Disaster,” which was selected for the postponed 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. Watch the 6-minute video at https://moondisaster.org.