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Your Next Selfie Could Reveal When You Will Die, UIC Prof Says

By Chloe Riley | July 29, 2014 5:24am
 University of Illinois-Chicago professor S. Jay Olshansky's Face My Age website gives users a life span estimate based on a photo of themselves.
University of Illinois-Chicago professor S. Jay Olshansky's Face My Age website gives users a life span estimate based on a photo of themselves.
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c/o University of Illinois at Chicago

NEAR WEST SIDE — Your next selfie might be more revealing than you think.

Uploaded to a website called Face My Age, it could also tell you just how long you'll live.

The site was designed by University of Illinois at Chicago Public Health professor S. Jay Olshansky and Karl Ricanek Jr., a University of North Carolina Wilmington specialist in face-recognition technology.

Chloe Riley explains what features on your face help the site analyze your life expectancy:

Upload your photo, and the site analyzes everything from the lines in your forehead, the wrinkles by your eyes known as crow's feet and the size of your nose (it becomes more bulbous with age) to how much your cheeks sag and the width of your lips (which also become thinner with age).

"How old you look actually is a risk factor for a variety of disease and disorders you may be facing," Olshansky said. "There is a relationship there. So if somebody told you you look young for your age, they’re probably right."

It also asks a series of lifestyle questions, including smoking and drug habits, sun exposure, education, marital status and plastic surgery history. The site then estimates your expected life span, remaining days on earth, and your probability of surviving past 65.

Different photos with different lighting can impact the guess, however, as does whether you smile or not. And Olshansky admits other measures can trick the software: plugging a photo of Joan Rivers' 81-year-old face into the website spit back Rivers' perceived age: 57.

"What it says is that plastic surgery works," Olshansky said, laughing. 

The Face My Age site also has another purpose: Olshansky receives data for his own research about the connection between face age and mortality risk.  

When the website first launched July 2, Olshansky said he hoped that 20,000 people would upload pictures of themselves within the year. Instead, after a story appeared in the Washington Post, Face My Age already has more than 220,000 images, with users uploading photos at a rate of 2,500 photos a minute at one point when the story first went live. 

Olshansky — who also is a research associate at University of Chicago's Center on Aging — said he soon plans to add a feature which will morph users' faces to show them the effects of smoking and drugs on their body at a certain age.

The feature, he said, would allow young people — or those trying to kick a drug or alcohol problem — to see the future effects of the drug on their bodies.

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