This Is What Your Face Looks Like to Facebook

Artist Sterling Crispin’s “Data Masks” remind us the machines are always watching.

Kyle Chayka
Nov 24, 2014 · 3 min read

By Kyle Chayka



Crispin gathers face patterns from data sets sets like Labeled Faces in the Wild, then “evolves” a two-dimensional image from the composite, finally rendering it in 3-D — much like Facebook. He stops the iterative process before the algorithm has created a perfect face, resulting in the strange mutations of his images. The image, he says, might have “somebody’s eyebrow, somebody else’s chin.”

This face (below) is “like looking at a ghost; it’s very disturbing,” Crispin says. The algorithm came up with the Sphinx-like grin on its own.

“Some of them are less recognizable,” Crispin says. In the series, “a face-recognition algorithm would think it’s a face 99 percent of the time, but a person wouldn’t respond at all.”


When we sacrifice our identities to machines, “the kind of softness, the part that’s really human, is lost in all of this,” Crispin says. With the strange visages of the masks, “you’re not looking at some foreign, abstract other that’s somehow outside of you; you’re looking at yourself.”

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