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Human Race Machine: Blending Faces and Races

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Uploaded on Nov 6, 2009

David Flaxer steps into what looks like a photo booth in the basement of the George Sherman Union and sits down. When his face appears on the computer screen in front of him, Bruna Maia, rotating a joystick, places a cursor over the edges of his eyes, nose, mouth, and chin. With a few clicks, she stores his features in the computer, and the morphing process begins.

The booth, called the Human Race Machine, takes portraits of human faces and then alters them so that participants like Flaxer (SHA11) can see themselves as Asian, black, white, Hispanic, Indian, and Middle Eastern. The booth, stationed at the Howard Thurman Center this week, has attracted more than 200 curious participants.

The Human Race Machine was inspired by the fact that the DNA of any two humans is 99.97 percent identical, says author and photographer Nancy Burson, who developed the machine in collaboration with software engineers at MIT to show people how they are inextricably linked. Appearing at museums and universities and on The Oprah Winfrey Show, it is used an educational tool, spawning dialogue about race and identity.

Burson also has a deeper, more ominous message: for good or for bad, looks can be altered by technology. She prefers using it for good and has sold the rights to a similar technology, the Age Machine, to the FBI, which uses it to create age progression images to find missing children.

The Human Race Machine was brought to campus by Boston Universitys Hug Dont Hate, a grassroots, peace-building student organization, to promote discussion and understanding. Organization president Maia (CAS10) urges people to question the social constructs associated with race and reach for common ground. Its important for people to recognize theres only one race — the human race.

For more Boston University news and videos, check out http://today.bu.edu

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