Can a computer guess your age based on a photograph?

=== by Bob Sutherland ===

Have you reached that stage in life where you cannot remember how old you are? Does being asked the question just fog up your brain? Are you left stammering, stuttering, confused and trying to quickly remember or guess your age? Do not worry. Preschool children often have the same problem so it is not a sign that you are getting too old.

Have you ever wondered whether your girlfriends, boyfriends, neighbours, work colleagues, or other acquaintances are telling you the truth when they state their age? Are they really older, younger or the same age as you?

When I was a teenager I remember going to the fall fair. There was an employee in a booth offering to bet for a small wager that he could guess anyone's age. I was too young but a few of the adults in the crowd were willing to test his skills.

Well now through the miracle of artificial intelligence (AI) we have computer programs to solve the problem. Computers have been fed large collections of human facial photographs and taught how to determine a person's age.

Does the person have facial hair? Do they have acne? How many wrinkles? A computer can measure many things on your digital photograph to determine your age.

Consider the following situations.

A teenager has to be 13 years old to join Facebook. But 13 year olds do not have government issued identification cards to confirm their age. A Facebook staff member will never physically meet the person applying for an account. How will the company know it is not a 10 or 12 year old trying to sneak in underage?

Facebook offers a dating service for customers living in the United States. You have to be 18 years of age to participate. How are the Facebook staff going to determine how old you are? Do you want to send them a photograph of your driver's license or passport? Do you want to send them a photograph of your credit card and hope your bank or credit card company will verify your age? How many 18 year olds have these forms of identification?

Many stores and businesses have discounts for senior citizens. Depending on the establishment's policy the discount may apply beginning at age 55, 60 or 65. How is the store clerk, waitress or cashier suppose to guess a customer's age? Often there may be a difference of many decades between the age of the staff member and the customer.

If the sale of tobacco, alcohol and/or recreational drugs is legal in your area then some government has probably set a minimum age restriction for customers. Businesses need a better way of determining your age than viewing a government identification card you keep in your wallet. What is the name, birthdate and address on that card? The picture does not look like you!

The constituency office staff of your local politician may advertise that they can issue some form of reward certificate to any voter in their district that reaches an important milestone. Maybe it is 100 years of age. Maybe it is 75 years of marriage. Often they will have a short list of rewards available but you need to be really old to qualify for any of them.

No politician wants to be accused in the newspapers of being tricked into giving a reward to some fraudster who was not actually qualified to receive it. How can the politician's staff verify a senior citizen's age before issuing the reward? The family is not likely to find any witnesses are still alive who can attest by oath that they were present at the birth of a 100 year old. Will the original wedding guests still be around when a couple is celebrating their 75th anniversary? Official government records may not exist or be considered too unreliable for dates that long ago.

In the past all of these age verification problems had to be solved by staff members searching for evidence and then taking educated guesses on good faith that people were telling them the truth. Now we are inventing computer programs and mobile applications to take on the age verification tasks.

Late last night I found a website where I could submit a photo of my face. The computer program then analyzed my photo and responded with the following details. I am a male. My face shape is oval. My face lacks expression or any hint of intelligent thought. I am 62 years old.

I tried a few more selfie photos taken on different days. The computer website responded with the same results each time, plus or minus a year. There was one exception, a photo where my age was guessed to be 6 years younger, possibly because it was the only photograph in which I was smiling.

I then found a small collection of coloured photographs of my relatives that included some good quality head and shoulder shots taken over the past few decades. The computer program scrambled the birth order of my siblings but otherwise the age estimates were reasonably accurate for the dates when the photos were taken.

Are you willing to let a computer guess your age based only on a photograph? How accurate will it be? Here are two websites that gave me identical results so I suspect they are both using the same age verification software.

Face Age Calculator.

Detect age by photo. How old do I look?