3D printed face masks defy surveillance technology
That feeling of being watched by someone you can't see isn't just in your head. No matter where you turn, from the FBI to Facebook, your personal identity is being gathered, recorded, and analyzed.
In response to this aggressive pervasiveness of surveillance technology, artist Sterling Crispin has reverse-engineered facial detection algorithms to create DATA MASKS, a 3D art project-cum-act of political protest.
Using state of the art face recognition and detection algorithms, Crispin has developed an evolving system that produces human-like faces. These 'faces' satisfy facial recognition algorithms, such as the kind Facebook uses, however to an actual person, they are both unrecognizable and disturbing.
In order to create the masks, Cripsin gathered face patterns from online databases, where thousands of images of human faces are stored. The raw data is then evolved into a two-dimensional image from the composite, and then rendered in 3D. Essentially, Crispin is mimicking Facebook's DeepFace system, but reverse-engineering it so it can be used against the machine.
Unlike Facebook, however, Crispin stops the algorithmic process before the final face has been rendered, resulting in half-formed, mutated images that do not disclose any personal information, yet manage to fool data-collecting software. "A face-recognition algorithm would think it's a face 99 percent of the time, but a person wouldn't respond at all."
The resulting mutations are then rendered and printed in 3D and can be worn by subjects as a form of protest, a political statement against the disintegration of our privacy and Big Brother policing.
"The goal of creating these masks isn't to defeat facial recognition or provide something undetectable, simply covering your face with your hand will do that," explains Crispin. "Rather, my goal is to show the machine what it's looking for, to hold a mirror up to the all-seeing eye of the digital-panopticon we live in and let it stare back into its own mind."
Facebook's Deep Face System can detect whether two faces in unfamiliar photos are the same person with 97.25% accuracy.
The Santa Barbara-based artist has often dealt with questions of consciousness, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and humanity in his work, and as surveillance technology becomes more advanced and controversial, it is up to each individual to understand how and why their information is being collected.
"Biometrics is the measurement and analysis of biological data," he explains. Fingerprints, facial geometry, eye retinas, DNA, voice patterns and even how you walk count as biometric data and is being collected, oftentimes without your knowledge or permission.
The FBI's Next-Generation Identification, FacialNetwork.com and the U.S. government's PRISM are just a few examples of how this technology is being exploited. These systems define humans not by "who" we are, but by "what" can be measured.
DATA MASKS, the subject of Crispin's Masters of Science thesis, is a reminder not only of what these technologies represent, but our power as citizens to flip this logic on its head and re-humanize our selves. "The implications these programs have on our privacy, identity and their impact on social interactions in the future is immense," he writes.
"DATA-MASKS have been developed in order to make these threats to our identities visible through illustrating the way these networked systems capture, classify, and represent human identity."