DNA Phenotyping and Genetic Witnesses

Police have created their first-ever suspect wanted poster that was a generated 3D image of someone they have never seen. The source for the image? DNA.

For a 2019 case that was turning cold, the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) ran through all their options, so they turned to technology and tapped into a “genetic witness.” By pulling predictive descriptions just from the DNA, EPS built a wanted poster of the subject.

The potential of “DNA to Face” has many applications, including new methods of facial recognition (first spotlit back in Issue 11).

It is also problematic on a few levels. For example, the technology does not factor in the suspect’s age, BMI, or environmental factors, such as facial hair, tattoos, and scars. Many in the industry are calling it a pseudoscience. EPS pulled the poster two days after sharing it due to community concerns around bias and accuracy.

Good and bad, the door is now wide open. As MIT Technology Review recently wrote, this is “just one part of an apparatus that can identify people by a range of techniques, fusing personal information across connected databases into a sort of data panopticon.”

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Brent is a member of the executive team for Opus Agency, partner to world-shaping brands.
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