From MIT Technology Review:
Genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter says if he had your genome he could pick you out of a crowd.
by Antonio Regalado September 7, 2017
On Monday, the California gene-hunting company Human Longevity published a paper making the bold claim that it can identify individuals using their genomes to predict what their faces looks like.
The assertion—that your DNA can be used to create a photo-like reconstruction of you—has potentially big implications. It would allow police to pick suspects out of a lineup using a blood spot and it would mean no genome collected for research is truly private.
But a withering reaction to the face-prediction paper by scientists on social media is probably not what Human Longevity’s founder, the famed genomics expert J. Craig Venter, had in mind.
Venter was an entrepreneur who elbowed his way into the government’s Human Genome Project in the 1990s and vastly sped it up.
According to two experts who reviewed the paper—and one former employee—Venter can’t actually pick a person out of a crowd using a genome, and his report had difficulty finding a publisher.
“Craig Venter cannot predict faces,” Yaniv Erlich, the chief scientific officer of MyHeritage.com, a genealogy website, said bluntly on Twitter. To make the point, Erlich posted Venter’s prediction of his own face, noting that it looked more like actor Bradley Cooper than the biologist-turned-entrepreneur.
From L to R: Craig Venter, Venter’s prediction of what he looks like based on his own DNA, Bradley Cooper
… But skeptics say Human Longevity actually uses a person’s race and sex—easily measured from simpler DNA tests and not a new idea—to create pictures that portray average faces, not specific ones, as the company said.
Ironically, Venter played a large role in promoting the popular myth that Race Does Not Exist with talking points he asserted at the White House Rose Garden ceremony in 2000, such as “Race is a social concept, not a scientific one.”
Using its method, the company reported it could pick the right person from a lineup of 20 photographs about 70 percent of the time. But after discarding people of a different sex and race than the subject, accuracy dropped drastically. Used to pick a specific European man out of a lineup of 20 other European men, it was right 11 percent of the time.
So that’s a little over twice random luck (5%). Using advanced genetics to identify facial features gets you from 5% to 11%, while using basic genetics to identify sex and race gets you from 11% to 70%.
It’s almost as if the Bill Clinton-Venter-Collins speeches in the Rose Garden in 2000 about how genetics proves race isn’t scientific were political rather than scientific.