Your Face Can Determine How Long You Will Live 

Imagine that an insurance underwriter comes to your house and, along with noting your weight and blood pressure, snaps a photo of your face. And that those wrinkles, mottled spots and saggy parts, when fed into a computer, could estimate how long you will live.

Facial recognition technology, long used to search for criminals and to guess how a missing child might look as an adult, may soon become personal. A group of scientists is working on a system that would analyze an individual’s prospects based on how his or her face has aged.

“We know in the field of aging that some people tend to senesce, or grow older, more rapidly than others, and some more slowly,” said Jay Olshansky, a biodemographer at the University of Illinois at Chicago who came up with the idea. “And we also know that the children of people who senesce more slowly tend to live longer than other people.”

The research is still in its early stages, but the idea of using facial recognition technology has prompted interest from insurance company executives who see potential for using it in determining premiums, Olshansky said. There’s also a potential benefit for individuals: The technology might prod them to change their health habits before it’s too late.

The technology involves using a computer to scan a photograph of a face for signs of aging. Factoring in the subject’s race, gender, education level and smoking history – all known to affect longevity prospects – it would analyze each section of cheek, eye, brow, mouth and jowl looking for shading variations that signal lines, dark spots, drooping and other age-related changes that might indicate how the person is doing compared with others of the same age and background.

As the United States skews increasingly older, research into extending life span and, in particular, increasing the number of healthy years is a boom topic for public and private entities.

Google last fall announced Calico, a new enterprise focusing on aging and associated diseases, for which it has been recruiting top scientists; it has not revealed details of its plans or how much it is investing. Another organization, Human Longevity Inc., headed by the well-known genomics researcher Craig Venter, launched this spring with plans to build a database of human DNA sequencing to tackle diseases of aging; it raised $70 million in an initial round of funding.

And the National Institutes of Health recently launched an unprecedented collaborative initiative across 20 of its 27 specialized institutes to address aging and longevity. National Institute on Aging director Richard Hodes said the NIH would also like to work on the topic with some of the emerging organizations.

At the very least, learning the results of one’s face-age analysis may nudge participants to try to extend their healthy life spans by adopting good habits.

“If someone came to you and said that your life expectancy, for example, is five years from now, you would think pretty hard and long about what’s going on in your life,” Ricanek said. “It can make us wake up and change some of the things that we’re doing – maybe we’re stressing out too much about our job; maybe we need to make different lifestyle decisions.

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