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Masks Simulate How You Look to Facial Detection Algorithms

Facial recognition algorithms like those used by Facebook inspired these 3D-printed masks.
May 28, 2016, 11:30am
DATA-MASK, Classical Smear. A 3D rendering of facial recognition data. Images via

For artist Sterling Crispin, the dissemination and advancement of facial recognition technologies to law enforcement poses dire threats to privacy and freedom. The FBI launched a facial recognition database in 2014 capable of storing 52 million faces of both criminals and non-criminals. In order to show people how facial recognition algorithms work by abstracting human features into statistical patterns, and distorting your own image into data that can be used against you, Crispin created DATA-MASKS. These 3D-printed sculptures look like an unsettling combination between the mutant Toxic Avenger, and the Flood from Halo, and comprise an ongoing project that seeks to expose "the way the machine and the surveillance state view human identity," and make "aspects of these invisible power structures visible."


The above image is of a human face, reverse-engineered from advanced facial recognition algorithms. According to Kyle Chayka at Matter on Medium, Crispin creates these images and sculptures by using algorithms similar to those used by Facebook. He then uploads them to Facebook and cross-references and checks his results. It's heady stuff—pardon the expression—so allow Crispin to explain, "[My] research has resulted in the production of a series of 3D-printed face masks which were algorithmically evolved to satisfy facial recognition algorithms. These masks are shadows of human beings as seen by the minds-eye of the machine-organism. […] These DATA-MASKS give form to an otherwise invisible network of control and identification systems and make their effect on our identities tangible and visible."

Crispin believes in bringing "transparency to the surveillance and biometric techniques used today," and in doing so has generated a conversation between computers and the faces of the consumers they represent. Below, check out images from Sterling Crispin's DATA-MASKS project from 2013-2015.

A lineup of 3D-printed DATA-MASKS. 

3D renderings of Crispin's composited DATA-MASKS.



Head over to Sterling Crispin's website to learn more.

This article was originally published on November 24, 2014.


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