Our fingerprints might not be unique

According to AI

Growing up, you may have been told that the fingerprints on one person’s hand are unique. But this has never been more than just a belief.

Graham Williams, professor of forensic science at Hull University in the UK, knows it’s not so simple. He’s said that we don’t know if all fingerprints are unique; it’s just that, as far as we know, no two people have yet to demonstrate the same fingerprints.

A team at Columbia University used AI recently to examine 60,000 fingerprints to see if it could work out which ones belonged to the same individual.

Surprisingly, the AI could identify whether the prints from different fingers came from the same person with 75-90% accuracy.

The researchers have no idea how it works.

It’s another unusual instance of AI doing things we humans cannot wrap our heads around and might never do. This is precisely why people worldwide use AI — for tasks we can’t quite do ourselves.

The researchers believe that the AI tool might be analysing fingerprints differently than traditional methods. Perhaps it focuses on the orientation of the ridges in the centre of a finger rather than the way the ridges end.

Fingerprints are formed before birth, and it was codebreaker Alan Turing who proposed the theory that the genetic process behind them may be similar to how animals like Zebras get their markings.

So, what are the significant repercussions of AI being able to spot two fingerprints from the same person (regardless of whether we understand how it does it)? Well, for one — crime scenes.

Until now, if a thumbprint is found at one crime scene and an index fingerprint is found at a second crime scene — it’s impossible to connect them. But this new AI tool might identify whether the same person was at both crime scenes.

It’s easy to read about how AI can impact crime scenes and prosecutions and only think about the future. But with this new tool, it might be possible to solve past crimes that have already taken place. Many fingerprints get collected at crime scenes and cannot connect.

On a more localised note, if you have one of those fingerprint door locks on your home, you might someday be able to open it with your pinky finger, too. Who knows, maybe your thumb will be busy, and you’ll be over the moon to be able to use your second finger instead.

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