Recent developments in facial recognition technology have made it possible to measure a person's lifespan based on facial appearance, and insurance companies are interested in using this data to decide premiums. But should insurance underwriters determine your rates based on your mug shot?
Medical ethicist Art Caplan returned to Studio Three on Wednesday to discuss the ethical implications of this new project. Caplan is the head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU's Langone Center.
The technology, which is being pioneered by a group of scientists led by Jay Olshansky from the University of Illinois in Chicago, works like this: A computer scans a photograph of a person's face, taking into account the subject's race, gender, education level and smoking history, and then analyzes the entire face looking for dark spots and wrinkles. This data is then compiled to demonstrate how rapidly the subject has aged relative to others of the same age or background.
Despite the fact that facial appearance alone might not be able to give an accurate indication of longevity, there just feels something, well, creepy about an insurance company having access to your face.
"When you start talking to people about this, most people don't want to know when they're going to die," Caplan said.
Caplan said he views the aging process — all those wrinkles and dark spots we see in our mug shot — as a "disease." "I think aging is just another set of biological errors that cause us to fall apart." And while people are uncomfortable interfering with the natural aging process, a great many financial rewards could be reaped if scientists learned to slow it down.
Given America's national obsession with aging — a recent Census reportshowed the U.S. population age 65 and older is projected to double between 2012 and 2050 — it is probably unsurprising researchers are finding tools to both explain aging and potentially delay it. Increasing life expectancy by just 2.2 years could save $7.1 trillion in disability and entitlement programs over 50 years, Olshanskytold the Washington Post.
To listen to the full interview with Art Caplan, listen below: