A Look Into the Future -- and Sometimes It Ain't Pretty

New technology allows people to see how they will age based on their habits.


March 21, 2008 — -- A new technology is allowing people a glimpse into the future, and it often isn't pretty.

Accenture Technology Labs is developing a digital device called the "persuasive mirror" that can show what your bad habits will do to your face over time.

A user answers questions about lifestyle, uploads a digital photo and hopes for the best as the mirror digitally ages the person six months down the road.

Although people know that cigarettes, alcohol, overeating and sunbathing can be bad for their health, that knowledge isn't always enough to make them give up their bad habits.

The makers of the mirror hope that a peek into the future will change that.

"A picture is worth a thousand warnings," said Andrew Fano, of Accenture Technology Labs. "On the one hand it's to scare you and on the other it's to reward you."

Two subjects, Marion and Robin, looked at their before and after images after just six months of overeating. The results were subtle, but there was a noticeable weight gain in both of their faces.

Crystal Ball

A similar technology, Aprilage Development's AgeMe.com, allows you to look further into the future.

I tested how I would look at age 72 if I aged healthily, and how I would look if I started overeating and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. The results were alarming (see photo above.)

Dr. Mehmet Oz, author of the popular "You" series of books on healthy living, has used the same technology to scare smokers straight on the "Oprah Winfrey Show."

But can the the fear of your own reflection really lead to change?

In 2005, ABC News challenged a group of women to lose weight by taking photos of them in tiny bikinis at their "before" weight. The goal was to lose 15 pounds in two months. If they didn't, those embarrassing photos would be shown on national TV.

The results? All of the women lost the weight.

Accenture's persuasive mirror is not on the market yet. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego are studying the mirror's effect on people's behavior. The study is expected to be out in May, and then Accenture plans to fine tune the mirror before releasing it to the medical community.

The company is banking on the mirror's powers of persuasion.

"A basic mirror is essentially a technology we turn to on a daily basis that does influence our decisions, whether we need to lose weight, what we decide to wear, how we feel about ourselves," Fano said.

Most people we talked to on the street said they would try to change their unhealthy behaviors if they could see their aging process.

Still, not everyone fears the mirror.

"I already have it in my mind what I'm going to look like," one woman said. "It's going to be pretty bad, but nothing Botox can't cure."

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