• Deborah Ismay

livestory - cool or creepy?

Updated: Apr 28

A year ago MyHeritage took the genealogy world by storm with their new feature to animate photographs - Deep Nostalgia. Now they've taken this a step further and introduced LiveStory.

LiveStory provides a video biography. Animated videos of your ancestors telling their life story. To try out this feature you need to be a MyHeritage subscriber or register for a free account.

I decided to put this AI technology to the test.

The process was incredibly easy to navigate and use. You begin by selecting LiveStory as an option from the photos tab. If you already have a tree uploaded then you simply choose one of your ancestors to begin. The software then turns the information in your tree into a pre-populated narrative.

Alternatively, if you have no tree or photos already on MyHeritage you just upload a photograph of your ancestor and then fill in a template providing their name and gender. From there you type in the narrative, in the first person, yourself.

Whether you're beginning from scratch or editing MyHeritage's pre-populated story, the editing is very simple to do and you can add in stories and anecdotes not just 'facts'. There's also an option to add in additional photos.

LiveStory then converts the written narrative to audio and animates the person's face and mouth to speak. The final step is to choose a 'voice' from the library.

The LiveStory I created is above. It's Andy's Irish Grandfather, Pat Monaghan telling his story. Have a listen and see what you think!

On the whole, I think the animation is pretty impressive but the text to speech technology produces a somewhat stilted delivery and struggles with the pronunciation of people's names, place-names and abbreviations. It seems odd that Pat can't correctly pronounce the name of his own hometown!

The other aspect that makes me uncomfortable are the voices themselves. There is a large library - 152 different voices covering 31 languages. However, I had one single male 'Irish' voice option for Pat and I suspect it sounds nothing like his actual County Mayo accent.

Then there is the question of ethics. Users are asked only to use the technology on photographs of deceased individuals, not on living people's photos and not to create content that is obscene, false or offensive. Even so, is it right to put our words in the mouths of our ancestors?

The reception in the genealogy community has been unenthusiastic on the whole. Even those who liked Deep Nostalgia's animated photos think the video's are possibly a step too far. It's always amazing to see how technology is advancing but just because we can do, does that mean we should? Creepy AND cool seems to be the consensus!