A Look into the Crystal Ball

How Curiosity Drives Self-Optimization

Yellowed teeth, graying hair, drooping jaw-lines, and crow’s feet that extend from either eye. Whether you like it or not we will all go through the process of aging, although the rate in which this process occurs may vary from person to person. Due to both genetic and environmental factors, the way in which our bodies physically change over time is a point of intense curiosity for much of the public, and a keen point of interest for the health and beauty industries. Many people – young and old – want to know how their bodies will alter in the future; and many who work in the health and beauty sectors want to tap into their customer’s curiosity, and find ways to alleviate or disguise the inevitable signs of aging. Although some choose to grow old gracefully, there is now a growing desire for cosmetic surgery, specialist anti-aging diets, and age-defying creams and lotions that can turn back the clock and provide a more youthful appearance. With such a widespread curiosity in how the body physically changes with the passing of time, new technological advances have been developed to enable users to glimpse into the future, and predict how they may look in their older years.

  Four portraits of the same woman showing her age progression    Four portraits of the same woman showing her age progression

Fighting Time

For many people, there is an ongoing battle against time and a quest to remain looking younger for longer. Today’s media constantly bombards us with images of young and healthy individuals. Advertisements regularly instruct us about the benefits of applying certain creams that contain specific amino acids in order to maintain skin elasticity; or how consuming omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent the deterioration of the brain and improve cognitive functioning. However, despite the burgeoning obsession with remaining young, there are few methods that can be employed to predict how individual people will look in decades to come. Fueled by the curiosity of vanity, a team of scientists from Computer Vision, based at the University of Washington, has developed a new personalized image search engine, called Dreambit. The new app allows users to upload portrait photographs and selfies, which are subsequently altered according to the requests of the user, to produce images of what the face may look like at different stages of the ageing process. Yet are we all keen to see a vision of ourselves in our graying years? Do we really want to be able to predict what we will look like when we are older?

Established in 2013, Dreambit was developed by Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman as a means for creating apps for Android operating systems, in order to make Smart Phones even smarter by enhancing user experiences. The Dreambit face-swapping search engine aims to encourage users to upload selfies and face images, which can then be inserted into the facial features of any uploaded photograph taken from the internet, which are selected by the app based on the search question. As well as showing how the face might age, the personalized search engine can also alter uploaded images to indicate what the user will look like with different hair types or hair colors, or how the person would look if they were of different ethnicities from various regions of the world. What’s more, there is no need to have any editing skills – the software does all the hard work for you. So with a few clicks, users can see what they might look like with long or short hair – which can be blonde, auburn, brunette or jet black, straight, curly or wavy – in 5, 10 or 15 years from now.

More than Just For Fun

Drawing on previous research conducted at the University of Washington and other leading research institutions, which focused on face image processing, facial feature identification, three-dimensional facial reconstruction, and age progression predictions, Dreambit works by combining the algorithms of the aforementioned research areas to develop a hybrid image. Once created, the hybrid image can be used to predict the facial appearance of a child, young person or adult in five or ten years’ time, as well as what different hair styles or colors – and even baldness – may look like. In addition to fueling the curiosity of those who are vane or lack self-confidence, it is hoped that the new app will assist in identifying missing children, based on original photographs. The creator of Dreambit, Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, states that when missing children grow up they often change their hair-colors or styles, and so age-progression technology can help depict how missing children might look over time.

Despite the possibilities, it is expected that most people will use Dreambit to experiment with their own appearance in order to determine how they are likely to age. Even though the app will probably form a source of entertainment for most users, there are also concerns that some users may develop confidence issues and psychological problems. Not all will be comforted by how they look in years to come, and many may wish to invest in beauty and healthcare products, and even cosmetic surgery. Such a move would bring further customers to the health and beauty industries, generating revenue for further research and development. As we start to develop new ways of visualizing our future selves, will it increase our curiosity in devising more ways to prevent such images from ever materializing?

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