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'Moon Disaster' Deepfake by MIT with Egypt's Pakinam Amer Wins Emmy

'In Event of Moon Disaster' won an Emmy award for 'Outstanding Interactive Media: Documentary', and we spoke with one of the journalists behind it, Egypt's Pakinam Amer, to tell us about the big win.

'In Event of Moon Disaster', a storytelling project and documentary by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Advanced Virtuality and a team of researchers and journalists including Egypt's own Pakinam Amer, has won the Emmy award for 'Outstanding Interactive Media: Documentary'!

"I’m still in disbelief. I’m so proud of our win," Amer tells CairoScene. "'In Event of Moon Disaster' - a storytelling experience about misinformation and manipulated media - was a tremendous team effort under the helm of the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality, Professor Fox Harrell and the film’s co-directors Fran Panetta and Halsey Burgund. I’m ecstatic to have been part of this dream project and this dream team. I’ll always be grateful to Fran for bringing me into it."

Amer is an award-winning investigative journalist who wrote for several regional and international magazines and newspapers. After taking a break from reporting (and studying Kung Fu in a Shaolin temple for a year), Amer joined Nature Middle East, the regional edition of Nature magazine, where she became editor-in-chief. In 2018, she joined MIT as a Knight Science Journalism fellow. Once she graduated, she continued with the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality as a research affiliate working on AI, VR & immersive narratives - leading her straight to 'In Event of Moon Disaster'.

The project involves an intricately created deepfake video of President Richard Nixon delivering a speech that had been written in case the Apollo 11 moon mission failed. It was never delivered in our reality, but through advanced technology and artificial intelligence, the MIT team were able to create an alternate reality that was as convincing as it was chilling.

"The project is at the intersection of many disciplines, journalism, humanities, art, history, society, and science. And it utilizes machine learning and emerging tech to re-imagine a landmark historical event and tell a profound story about truth and the shifting nature of reality. It’s a unique beast. It’s factual but it has a strong element of fiction," Amer explains. "It has a ‘deepfake’ at the heart of it but it was made to warn about the dark potential of deepfakes. It’s not everyday that you become part of something this ambitious, this imaginative and this deep, in every sense of the word. And so I’m happy that it’s being recognized and appreciated by general audiences, peers, and big institutions like the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.”

Released in 2020 on moondisaster.org, 'In Event of Moon Disaster' came with a body of literature that informed audiences on how to spot a deepfake, and educate them about the ethical and practical issues surrounding this newly emergent technology.

'In Event of Moon Disaster' previously won the Special Jury Prize for Digital Storytelling at IDFA 2020.