Have you ever noticed that we literally shed little pieces of ourselves as we go about our daily lives? Whether it’s a strand of hair, saliva residue on a soda or cigarette, or even skin cells, we leave behind DNA wherever we go. It’s one of the many reasons DNA is used in criminal investigations; it’s nearly impossible to avoid leaving something behind.
But Heather Dewey-Hagborg had a different idea about what left-behind DNA could be used for. She’s what she calls an “information artist,” and for the past year she’s been working on the idea of using that DNA to reconstruct the face of its owner.
“I’ve worked with face recognition and speech recognition algorithms in the past, but I had never considered the emerging possibility of genetic surveillance; that the very things that make us human: hair, skin, saliva, become a liability as we constantly face the possibility of shedding these traces in public space, leaving artifacts which anyone could come along and mine for information,” she wrote on her blog.
“Stranger Visions,” is her projects that addresses that very issue. By collecting random DNA samples all over NYC, Dewey-Hagborg has been able to determine many key traits of the owners: gender, ethnicity (maternally), and even eye color. Armed with that information, specialized software, and a 3-D printer, she has been able to create physical reconstructions. Unfortunately, Dewey-Hagborg says there are still a number of traits that would need to be determined in order to make the faces accurate; but she’s optimistic considering the advancement rate of technology these days.
For now, she hopes her project will achieve one thing: get people to think. It’s certainly a novel idea and one that will become more and more pertinent as technology continues to improve. It’s certainly possible that someday someone would be able to render a fairly accurate copy of the DNA owner.