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Brooklyn artist makes 3D portraits using DNA from your unwanted trash

Stranger Visions 3d portrait woman

Hey, litterers. Remember that banana peel or water bottle you so carelessly tossed in the street instead of a trash bin? Well, let’s hope this Brooklyn-based artist didn’t get her hands on it because she’s been using remnants of the DNA you’ve left all over town to create 3D portraits of what you could possibly look like. 

Stranger Visions 3d portraitThe project is part of Heather Dewey-Hagborg‘s “Stranger Visions” series which reconstructs the face of the DNA owner using simple genetic information found around New York City. She extracts DNAs from wads of hair, chewing gum, and cigarette butts to figure out the right maternal ethnicity, hair color, and gender before designing a matching 3-dimension face with a self-written software. Said software will draw up various possibilities of facial features, and Dewey-Hagborg would use her judgement to create the most aesthetically appealing versions of the DNA owner.

“I started fixating on this idea of hair and what can I know about someone from a hair,” she tells Co.Exist. Although DNA from hair can determine simple physical features, she says you must also take into account that the DNA owner may bare recessive genes. “There’s an 80 percent chance that this person has brown eyes and 20 percent chance that they have green eyes … You have to make that call.”

Stranger Visions 3d portrait art project

We know what you’re thinking: Dewey-Hagborg should sell the software to police academies and help 3D model criminals from their DNA tracks, right? Sadly, the technology just isn’t quite there yet. Because the DNA information can only reveal certain features but not exact shapes, the software won’t accurately depict the right face (not yet, anyway). However, she is planning on adding other genetic features, such as obesity or freckling, so at the very least, the portraits will look more complex.

Another issue Dewey-Hagborg raises is that a computer generally does not understand what a human face means, so she is forced to manually input all the data of what each cultural features look like. This, essentially, creates a stereotype. And that’s probably not something we want computers to start doing, too.

Stranger Visions 3d portrait manIt’s an absolutely strange, fascinating, but rather creepy experiment which makes us think twice about the DNA we leave behind in our daily lives. At this very moment, Dewey-Hagborg could be attempting to create a 3D portrait of me right now, and heaven knows what I touched or how much of my hair shedded over the week. Let’s hope the stereotyping is not too bad, because I have no idea where this dude in the photo on the left is supposed to be from. Seriously, those are the most “aesthetically pleasing” features you can combine on a person?