Imagine if a computer could tell you how many days you had left. Would you really want to know?
You might decide to live your life differently — perhaps spending your money in other ways, or making your health a bigger priority.
Whether you’re ready to find out or not, researchers from the University of East Anglia have started a project creating a software that — among other things — will be able to predict a person’s lifespan.
The researchers argue that knowing when our time is up could be helpful for planning retirement funds, getting better advice from physicians and understanding how drugs treating chronic illness could affect one’s lifespan.
They won’t be able to provide an exact figure, but they plan to match people by age, sex, health and lifestyle to come up with an educated guess of how many years you have left to live.
“If we have a thousand people with roughly the same kind of conditions and lifestyles and so on, then on average they will live for so many years,” Lead researcher Elena Kulinskaya told CNN.
It’s a Big Data project, meaning it uses vast amounts of information — in this case the medical records of 3.4 million British citizens.
“This is GP data, from people who come to see their GPs over many years — it’s routine primary care data,” explains Kulinskaya, adding that, “It’s absolutely anonymous.”
“Big Data is great,” says Dr Richard Siow, coordinator of Aging Research at King’s College London, a consortium which brings together scholarship and research in aging, “Many companies are using it — from pharmaceuticals to food distribution companies — to try and get an overall trend.
“But to apply Big Data to an individual is unrealistic,” he adds, “There are so many different variables… you may get overgeneralizations.”
However, Kulinskaya is confident the research could help patients and doctors make better educated decisions about healthcare — for example by comparing life expectancies of people on different medications.
It could even come in useful for planning your pension.
“People can take their pension pots out and use them as they wish,” explains Kulinskaya, “But to be able to plan for retirement, and to understand how much you can spend, it is good to have some idea of your life expectancy.”
The research will take four years to complete, and will receive £800,000 — around $1.15 million — in funding from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. Whilst findings will mainly be used by actuaries (for example life insurance companies), the IFoA intend to make them public so that anyone can access them.
Forewarned is forearmed, argues Kulinskaya — whether you’re thinking about pensions or improving your health, knowing your lifespan means you could extend it that little bit further.