Predicting Longevity

Can a computer really tell you how long you are going to live? 

That's what a team from the University of East Anglia thinks. The group of statisticians, computer scientists, and medics are launching a new project that, in theory, will predict how much longer you have left on Earth. 

Lead researcher Prof Elena Kulinskaya from UEA's School of Computing Sciences said: "People around the world are living longer. We want to develop software tools that use Big Data routinely collected by healthcare providers to forecast longevity."

"When we talk about Big Data what we mean is data that is vast, complex and difficult to analyse. We want to be able to use it to see statistical life expectancy trends, based on large-scale population-based data collected over the long term. We want to identify and quantify the key factors affecting mortality and longevity, such as lifestyle choices, medical conditions and medical interventions. We are particularly interested in understanding how various chronic diseases and their treatments impact life expectancy."

The team of researchers will embark on this four-year project—which has received an £800,000 (approximately $1.14 million USD) funding boost from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA)—and will work alongside medical and health scientists from Norwich Medical School. They will develop new statistical methods to model mortality, find trends in morbidity, and assess life expectancy, based on Big Data.

Promises and Perils of Big Data

While some news sites are referring to the innovation as a 'death clock,' the tool is more about promoting a certain quality of life rather than focusing on the inevitable. In fact, the team believes the research will bring practical, financial, and medical benefits to the public. It could even help people plan for retirement, or give an assessment of how a particular drug will affect their longevity.

However, Prof Kulinskaya does note, "Our estimates of life expectancy will only be true on average, not at the individual level." Which means this data won't be accurate for everyone. So essentially, don't base your entire retirement plan on this one statistical model. This project also has the potential to lead to rising insurance premiums for those who don't get positive feedback about their health. 

Would you want to know how much time you have left?

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