As we work in the machine vision industry and we are trained to change lighting filters and optics to be able to pick out defects from different surfaces I find articles associated with making data which was once considered impossible to see now visible a must read. Whilst making a cup of tea this morning I picked up an old copy of Machine Design (April 2015) in the cafeteria and flicked to a page entitled Backscatter Diffraction Uncovers removed serial numbers.
The article is about forensic work being able to detect serial numbers that have been filed off a metal surface (i.e. a gun), to make it untraceable. Turns out when imprinting that serial number the structure of the metal is altered below the surface, and engineers at NIST have used a scanning electron microscope and some clever software to see up to 760 microns below the original surface.
A few years ago, we would have accepted that the data was no longer available, now as we gather larger and larger data sets (big data), we can ask questions about what might be possible. To me this is an indication of what big data really means, not more data, but so much data that you have to think differently to process it.
I wonder how long it would take to go through all the guns stored as evidence to see their original serial numbers. Will this technology allow people who have been convicted (incorrectly) to be freed, or people that had got away with a crime now be charged as new evidence is available.