MyHeritage Deep Nostalgia AI That Brings Old Photos to Life Used Over 10 Million Times

A website where users can animate still photos of people has gone viral, as over 10 million images have been uploaded in around two weeks. The technology, called Deep Nostalgia, was released as a feature on the website of ancestry service MyHeritage on February 25.

Deep Nostalgia uses an artificial intelligence (AI) technique known as deep learning to make people in still photos appear as though they are moving, smiling, and blinking.

MyHeritage members have used the software to animate photos of their late relatives, but it can also be applied to anything with a face, including portrait paintings and statues.

MyHeritage said over 10 million faces had been animated using the technology in a statement released March 4. The ancestry site's mobile app became the most-downloaded free app on the Apple App Store in the U.S. on March 4, driven by the feature's popularity.

The company said it did not expect Deep Nostalgia to become so popular.

Demand was so great that the feature experienced stability issues in the first few days following its release. MyHeritage said the situation has since improved.

Celebrities and institutions are among those to use the app, further driving popularity on social media sites. On Twitter, actor Ian McKellen posted a video of a photo of nineteenth century Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, which had been animated using the software.

Haven’t we always wanted to come face to face with Oscar Wilde? Now we can and see him blink! #MyHeritage #OscarWilde

— Ian McKellen (@IanMcKellen) March 1, 2021

Amsterdam art gallery the RijksMuseum posted a video in which a number of portrait paintings had been animated using Deep Nostalgia. It said: "Our paintings come to life at night! Your greatest dream or your worst nightmare?"

Our paintings come to life at night! 🌙 Your greatest dream or your worst nightmare? 😱 #DeepNostalgia #Rembrandt

— Rijksmuseum (@rijksmuseum) March 4, 2021

MyHeritage said the technology makes use of "driver videos," in which a real person is instructed to move their head and eyes, blink, and smile. For one of the driver videos, a member of MyHeritage's marketing team took part.

When the technology is given a photo uploaded by a user, it applies one of multiple driver videos to that photo, so that the person in the image moves in the same way as the real person did.

MyHeritage has acknowledged the technology may be controversial amid the rise of deepfake videos, in which AI is used to make hyper-realistic animations of real people that can often be difficult to distinguish from genuine footage.

MyHeritage said in a statement: "While many love the Deep Nostalgia feature and consider it magical, others find it uncanny and are uncomfortable with the results.

"Our driver videos don't include speech in order to prevent abuse of this feature, such as the creation of 'deep fake' videos of living people."

Deepfake videos became popular on TikTok recently, after a user uploaded a number of clips featuring a deepfaked Tom Cruise. The clips went viral, with the user, @deeptomcruise, gaining over a million likes.

Post-war family photograph
A stock image shows a black-and-white photograph of a post-war brother and sister. The Deep Nostalgia technology can animate old photos and turn them into videos. uuurska/iStock