How DNA Can Be Used to Predict A Face Using AI

As of right now, there is no technology that can show you the face of someone purely from a sample of their DNA but a team of American and Belgian researchers have built an algorithm that has a similar purpose. Police officers would be able to use it to aid in catching criminals. The algorithm essentially goes through a database of people's faces and then selects the faces that could be a match for the DNA that has been found. However, this is still quite different from using DNA to create the organism's face.

So, why is this so challenging? DNA phenotyping is when physical features are reconstructed from genetic data. Over the past few decades, other methods have been used but this is the most accurate one when it comes to facial reconstruction, however, it is not as easy as it may seem in the movies. Genetic data that is relevant to specific phenotypes (physical traits) are examined and they can determine, for example, if somebody's eyes are blue or brown, or what hair colour someone has. These trait predictions have been used to find answers to other questions and were used to suggest that the "Cheddar Man" (a human male fossil) may have had dark skin and blue or green eyes. Even though there are many phenotypes that can be determined, as you may be able to imagine, it is still very difficult to just outright be able to create a face from the DNA using AI. This means that more genes need to be identified, so DNA phenotyping can become an even more accurate method. Furthermore, there are many external factors that can account for what someone looks like such as age, diet and where you live, so using DNA alone to predict what someone looks like is a very difficult feat.

Diagram of DNA phenotyping (Source:  Nature Communications )

Diagram of DNA phenotyping (Source: Nature Communications)

This method mostly helps rule people out... In practice, we don’t usually get any further than a sort of reference face, such as ‘a European male.’ That’s not much use to a forensic investigator.
— Peter Claes, member of the research team.

When it comes to catching criminals, the algorithm would be used to narrow down a list of suspects, as the DNA would be able to tell the police that the perpetrator had blue eyes, for example. After filtering the data for more traits, the algorithm would be able to give a list of potential people that have a similar face to the DNA based on the genetic data.

Obviously, for this algorithm to be of any use, there needs to be lots and lots of data in the form of a face database, so that they can be able to get a correct match. The use of this large database of people by an AI would also come with many privacy issues and issues regarding bias, for which the latter has accounted for by the research team. Privacy has always been an issue when it comes to AI and there will most likely be strict policies regarding the use of the algorithm and to prevent misuse of the data.