Fingerprints Studied by AI

A new fingerprint study is in—and plenty of scientists and forensic experts are taken aback: it claims to turn previous understandings about fingerprints upside down and to revolutionize fingerprint analysis in police work.  How significant is this study? 

The Old Mode of Analysis

Analysts in the fingerprint business have focused on the endpoints and branching in the ridges of fingerprints—called the “minutiae”—as they attempted to match fingerprints with suspects. This has been the emphasis for forensic experts for literally hundreds of years. Never before has the correlation between fingerprints on the same person been studied.

The New Node of Analysis

A study relying on artificial intelligence (AI) has changed the focus. Using this technology—which is the same technology used in facial recognition–researchers studied 60,000 pairs of fingerprints presented to AI. While some pairs of prints belonged to the same person but with different fingers or angles on the prints, others belonged to different people altogether. Scientists wanted to know if the technology could spot the prints that belonged to the same person or not.

Results of the Study 

After examining the curves and angles at the center of each print, the computer was able to determine that the prints belonged to the same individual just under 80% of the time. These similarities disprove the old theory that every single fingerprint is different. 


Although this initial research is relatively small, and researchers concede that their study needs replication using a larger and wider database of prints, they think that, ultimately, the findings will impact criminal investigation in huge ways. Innocent people who are suspects in a case can now be off the hook as suspects when their prints—using the new analysis– clear them. And more criminals could be caught with this analysis.  Cold cases could be reopened, too.  When investigators have only one print on file, AI can still make a match of latent prints, and new leads could be scrutinized as prints at the scene are identified when different fingers identify a suspect.  

On the Other Hand…

While the study itself is not disqualifying, some critics say the authors have largely overstated the importance of their work. They say analysts have known all along that fingerprints are different but similar and that the prints on different fingers of the same person are very similar. 

When it comes to the claim that reliance on AI can be the basis to reopen cold cases if the prints found at a crime scene are from different fingers than the police have on record, that is pretty much bunk, too. That is because it is common practice for officers to take all 10 fingerprints from suspects who are arrested—so how does the research really impact common practice in the legal field?

What’s Next?

As the study of fingerprints intensifies, one thing is certain: AI can provide insights previously overlooked that can help forensic scientists who are hoping to link suspects to crimes. While it is generally established that further study is necessary, the notion of looking at fingerprints in a whole new way is bringing new clarity to the conclusions reached by investigators and others.

Defending Charges

If you are facing criminal charges, the experienced, creative, and aggressive criminal defense attorneys at Boertje & Associates will provide the defense you deserve, regardless of charges or evidence against you.  Schedule a confidential consultation in our San Diego office today.

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