Apps may soon predict life expectancy, but do you want to know?

Predicting the lifespan of people would greatly alter our lives.

Apps may soon predict life expectancy, but do you want to know?

Don't die wondering: apps may soon be able to predict your life expectancy, but do you want to know?

Monaco and Japan have some of the highest life expectancies in the world. But calculating an individual’s life expectancy will require taking data analysis several steps further. SHUTTERSTOCK James Jin Kang, Edith Cowan University and Paul Haskell-Dowland, Edith Cowan University

When will I die?

This question has endured across cultures and civilisations. It has given rise to a plethora of religions and spiritual paths over thousands of years, and more recently, some highly amusing apps.

But this question now prompts a different response, as technology slowly brings us closer to accurately predicting the answer.

Predicting the lifespan of people, or their “Personal Life Expectancy” (PLE) would greatly alter our lives.

On one hand, it may have benefits for policy making, and help optimise an individual’s health, or the services they receive.

Read more: We're not just living for longer – we're staying healthier for longer, too

But the potential misuse of this information by the government or private sector poses major risks to our rights and privacy.

Although generating an accurate life expectancy is currently difficult, due to the complexity of factors underpinning lifespan, emerging technologies could make this a reality in the future.

How do you calculate life expectancy?

Predicting life expectancy is not a new concept. Experts do this at a population level by classifying people into groups, often based on region or ethnicity.

Also, tools such as deep learning and artificial intelligence can be used to consider complex variables, such as biomedical data, to predict someone’s biological age.

Biological age refers to how “old” their body is, rather than when they were born. A 30-year-old who smokes heavily may have a biological age closer to 40.

Calculating a life expectancy reliably would require a sophisticated system that considers a breadth of environmental, geographic, genetic and lifestyle factors – all of which have influence.

The use of devices such as fitness trackers will become crucial in predicting personal life expectancy in the future. Shutterstock

With machine learning and artificial intelligence, it’s becoming feasible to analyse larger quantities of data. The use of deep learning and cognitive computing, such as with IBM Watson, helps doctors make more accurate diagnoses than using human judgement alone.

This, coupled with predictive analytics and increasing computational power, means we may soon have systems, or even apps, that can calculate life expectancy.

There’s an app for that

Much like existing tools that predict cancer survival rates, in the coming years we may see apps attempting to analyse data to predict life expectancy.

However, they will not be able to provide a “death date”, or even a year of death.

Human behaviour and activities are so unpredictable, it’s almost impossible to measure, classify and predict lifespan. A personal life expectancy, even a carefully calculated one, would only provide a “natural life expectancy” based on generic data optimised with personal data.

The key to accuracy would be the quality and quantity of data available. Much of this would be taken directly from the user, including gender, age, weight, height and ethnicity.

Access to real-time sensor data through fitness trackers and smart watches could also monitor activity levels, heart rate and blood pressure. This could then be coupled with lifestyle information such as occupation, socioeconomic status, exercise, diet and family medical history.

Read more: Your local train station can predict health and death

All of the above could be used to classify an individual into a generic group to calculate life expectancy. This result would then be refined over time through the analysis of personal data, updating a user’s life expectancy and letting them monitor it.

This figure shows how an individual’s life expectancy might change between two points in time (F and H) following a lifestyle improvement, such as weight loss.

Two sides of a coin

Life expectancy predictions have the potential to be beneficial to individuals, health service providers and governments.

For instance, they would make people more aware of their general health, and its improvement or deterioration over time. This may motivate them to make healthier lifestyle choices.

Read more: Faster, more accurate diagnoses: Healthcare applications of AI research

They could also be used by insurance companies to provide individualised services, such as how some car insurance companies use black-box technology to reduce premiums for more cautious drivers.

Governments may be able to use predictions to more efficiently allocate limited resources, such as social welfare assistance and health care funding, to individuals and areas of greater need.

That said, there’s a likely downside.

People may become distressed if their life expectancy is unexpectedly low, or at the thought of having one at all. This raises concerns about how such predictions could impact those who experience or are at risk of mental health problems.

Having people’s detailed health data could also let insurance companies more accurately profile applicants, leading to discrimination against groups or individuals.

Also, pharmaceutical companies could coordinate targeted medical campaigns based on people’s life expectancy. And governments could choose to tax individuals differently, or restrict services for certain people.

When will it happen?

Scientists have been working on ways to predict human life expectancy for many years.

The solution would require input from specialists including demographers, health scientists, data scientists, IT specialists, programmers, medical professionals and statisticians.

While the collection of enough data will be challenging, we can likely expect to see advances in this area in the coming years.

If so, issues related to data compliance, as well and collaboration with government and state agencies will need to be carefully managed. Any system predicting life expectancy would handle highly sensitive data, raising ethical and privacy concerns.

It would also attract cybercriminals, and various other security threats.

Moving forward, the words of Jurassic Park’s Dr Ian Malcolm spring to mind:

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.The Conversation

James Jin Kang, Lecturer, Edith Cowan University and Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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    9th Feb 2020
    i want to know where i will die then i won't go there.
    9th Feb 2020
    Most die in their own bed. So what are you going to do now?

    9th Feb 2020
    Life expectancy is like a budget - might or might not eventuate.. at the moment, of course, we're all in surplus... I am anyway.. the Reaper isn't that good... went down 1-0 last time in extra time...
    9th Feb 2020
    .. time tho throw away some of the social conventions and enjoy the Last Run...
    9th Feb 2020
    Imagine the hammering you could give to your credit card during your last old mate of mine once told me that the only way you can win in this life is to go out owing heaps of money, this would be great for him :)
    9th Feb 2020
    There is one site called the death clock. It told me I should be dead already.!
    9th Feb 2020
    Too funny, you show them Agnes!
    10th Feb 2020
    Did one years ago, said that even though I didn't smoke and drink at that time, I would still die at the same age as my father... way past that now and headed to being the oldest man in the family so far...

    Did another one, and it said I still had (today) fifteen years or so to go.
    9th Feb 2020
    Definitly would like to know; death is inevitable.
    9th Feb 2020
    It's all up to fate. My grandfather retired at 91 (he was a self employed arbitrator), smoked cigars, was heavily overweight, and ate the foods that we are told will give you cancer etc and was found as if asleep, sitting in his chair aged 95, still independent. His daughter, my mum smoked fairly heavily until the age of 90 and also lived until 95. Could it be the adulterated foods these days that cause so many problems?
    9th Feb 2020
    So many things at play, could be we are being exposed to more chemicals all around, in our food,in our personal products, in the air, from cars, from even our furniture, and these can accumulate if you liver is not doing it's job to eliminate toxins. Also there is evidence that gut bacteria has a bit impact on our health, many of those in your grandparents era had really good bacteria because they ate natural foods. So yes packaged "dead" food can play a big part. Who knows if they did eat healthier and did not smoke etc they could have lived another 20 years. It is also not about how long you live but how well you live.
    9th Feb 2020
    Oh for goodness sake! Don't want to know how or when I go! I could be diagnosed with something terminal tomorrow and get run over on a pedestrian crossing by an idiot running a red light the day after! What a stupid subject. My husband suffers from two terminal medical conditions and I have NEVER ask him about creates a negative attitude and causes unneeded distress or sometimes panic! ALWAYS LIVE FOR THE DAY YOU WAKE UP TO and enjoy life despite any limitations.
    10th Feb 2020
    Knew a bloke, ran five miles every day for years - went like THAT at 42........ truck hit him..
    9th Feb 2020
    I would not be trusting an app to tell me anything. Too many variations and everyone is not the same, putting things in the average basket does not work.
    9th Feb 2020
    I believe that NOT KNOWING the time of death is one of life best gifts. I remember at the age of 19 being told by a Kings Cross palm reader that I would die when I was 70. Although I know such 'predictions' are a load of superstitious rubbish, in my 70th year I was nervous. Now that I am 76 I am looking forward to the rest of my life, however long it may be, in ignorant bliss.
    9th Feb 2020
    Never believe those palm readers, but looking back I actually had a tarot reading years ago and dismissed it, then years later what she told me happened, I remembered it because I found it to ridiculous what she said, but alias it proved to be true, often they don't get the timing right though.

    10th Feb 2020
    Just enjoy it and don't worry - be happy...

    10th Feb 2020
    Your calculated life expectancy is 92

    No need to rush with the art teacher, then?
    10th Feb 2020

    That's better...
    10th Feb 2020
    Geez thanks, I was tempted and did it for curiosity now I wish I had not, I think some of the questions are not relevant and what is happening in your life now might not be the same next year and so forth, anyway it said 95 for me but I am planning on 100 or more.
    18th Feb 2020
    I don't want to know - just hope it's quick/not too painful!!??

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