Research Challenges Belief in Fingerprint Uniqueness, as AI Shows Potential
Columbia University researchers have questioned the conventional wisdom that every fingerprint is entirely unique. The team trained an artificial intelligence (AI) tool to analyze 60,000 fingerprints, aiming to determine if it could accurately identify prints from the same individual. Surprisingly, the technology demonstrated a 75-90% accuracy in distinguishing whether prints from different fingers belonged to the same person. However, the researchers are still uncertain about the specific mechanisms employed by the AI.
Professor Hod Lipson, a roboticist at Columbia University, acknowledged the ambiguity surrounding the AI’s methodology, emphasizing its departure from traditional forensic markers. The AI appeared to focus on the orientation of ridges in the center of a finger, rather than the minutiae, such as ridge endings and forks. This unexpected outcome surprised both Prof. Lipson and undergraduate student Gabe Guo, who conducted the study.
Graham Williams, a professor of forensic science at Hull University, noted that the idea of fingerprints being unequivocally unique has never been definitively established. The study’s results could have implications for biometrics and forensic science, potentially linking unidentified prints from different crime scenes to the same individual.
However, the Columbia University team, lacking forensic expertise, acknowledged the need for further research. They emphasized that while the AI tool might not be suitable for courtroom evidence, it could be valuable in generating leads for forensic investigations. Dr. Sarah Fieldhouse, associate professor of forensic science at Staffordshire University, expressed skepticism about the study’s immediate impact on criminal casework, citing uncertainties about the AI tool’s markers and their consistency over time.
The study, peer-reviewed and set to be published in the journal Science Advances, suggests a potential shift in understanding fingerprint uniqueness. Meanwhile, the anecdote of twins in Cheshire unlocking each other’s iPhones using their fingerprints adds an intriguing real-world dimension to the ongoing discourse.