Selfie biomarkers: AI and insurtech implications for Longevity

Longevity Technology | Danny Sullivan, Contributing Editor

AI firm Lapetus targets the face as a biomarker of aging: one simple picture can open-up a host of opportunities and implications. Wow.

Named after the Greek god of mortality, Lapetus Solutions is leveraging the power of facial recognition and AI to the world of Longevity. The North Carolina company is building analytical solutions for life insurance, life expectancy and wealth management that use the face as a biomarker of aging.

Longevity.Technology: The longevity sector is alive with companies using AI for all kinds of interesting initiatives, but Lapetus caught our eye with its approach to measuring human aging through nothing more than a selfie. The implications of your insurer making important decisions based on the photo you provide are manifest: we spoke with the company’s co-founder and Chief Data Scientist Karl Ricanek to find out more.

Ricanek is a PhD in computer science, with a particular speciality in facial analytics, a subject in which he holds multiple patents. He is also a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he is the director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Identity Sciences. The origin of Lapetus stems from a presentation given by Ricanek’s co-founder Jay Olshansky, a professor of gerontology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Olshansky is credited as a founder of the field of biodemography – the merging of multiple sciences for the purpose of explaining why people live as long as they do.

“About 10 years ago, Jay was giving a talk to a roundtable of CEOs at large life insurance companies,” recalls Ricanek. “He was saying that, from a public health perspective, we have a lot of tools that can more accurately produce life expectancies, more accurate than what they’re doing currently within the life insurance industry.”

At that time, the life insurance industry was typically using blood analysis – looking for signs of cancer, large inflammation or other indicators – and coming up with models for life expectancy based on the blood work.

“Jay was showing some pictures of centenarians and supercentenarians, and he showed pictures of these centenarians’ children,” says Ricanek, pointing out that many of them looked 20 years younger than their actual age. “It’s been deduced that this means that these individuals are biologically aging slower. And so, what Jay was able to show, and what science has been showing, is that there are these indicators on the face that present themselves for long-lived individuals.”

“It’s about understanding your origins, your genes, those things that are just innate in you.”

One of the CEOs present that day challenged Olshansky that, if he was certain that this kind of analysis was possible, then he should “go out and build it”. Taking up the challenge led Olshansky to approach Ricanek to find out more about his work on facial analytics that extract more meaningful information from the face than just identity.

“It’s about understanding your origins, your genes, those things that are just innate in you,” says Ricanek. “So it was natural that we would look at the components of the face to understand biological age, or what we’re now calling in our product, our ‘senescing rate.’ This is the rate at which you’re aging, and it can be faster or slower, or normal. So if you are senescing slower than normal, it basically means that you are likely to live longer than average. If you’re senescing faster, then you’re likely to live shorter.”

Lapetus was founded in 2015, and its first facial analysis product, Janus, is designed to be integrated into the online application process for life insurance, taking a single “medical selfie” and returning accurate gender, age and BMI estimates. The senescing rate feature has not yet been released, but it is planned for launch early next year.

Sensory toolset for Lapetus

“In as little as 60 seconds, possibly two minutes, we will be able provide information about your senescing rate, all of your demographic data, we can derive your BMI, we can look at smoking status,” says Ricanek, adding that the company is also working on being able to assess someone’s predisposition to chronic disease.

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