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Software lets you see your child's future face

Published: Tue 8 Sep 2015
Software lets you see your child's future face

Parents could be offered the chance to glimpse into their child's future using a new piece of software created by scientists at the University of Bradford.

Taking visual cues from the child's parents, the software can create a much more detailed and accurate portrait of an individual’s likely future appearance than currently possible with existing 'aging' software.

As well as offering us a fascinating opportunity to see what Prince George might look like in 2073, it could have a more important role in helping authorities catch criminals or identify missing people.

Speaking at the British Science Festival hosted by the University of Bradford, Hassan Ugail, the University’s Professor of Visual Computing, revealed how blending an individual’s features with those of the parents has enabled programmers to create a reliable forecast of the subject’s future face. 

“It’s widely understood that the genes of our parents provide the blueprint for how we look,” he says.

“Until now, facial aging software has only been able to reliably predict our own future appearance.   We’ve built on the current range of software packages, adding an extra layer of information into the algorithm.

"The software can verify which traits the child may have inherited from the parent, and then use this information to create images for the child at different points in the future.”

The Bradford team ‘trained’ the software using a database of hundreds of photographs of individuals taken at various ages in their lives. Professor Ugail believes that the programme’s facial predictions offer an accuracy of around eighty per cent.

The software has been put to the test, creating portraits of some of the UK’s most famous royal and celebrity offspring, including Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Eric Cowell and Harper Beckham.

What Princess Charlotte might look like at 2, 7, 20, 40 and 60 years old.
What Princess Charlotte could look like at 2, 7, 20, 40 and 60 years old

It remains to be seen just how close to reality these forecasts will be, but Professor Ugail is confident, building safeguards into the system to test the validity of the images produced.

“We put the aged portraits through facial recognition software,” he says.

"Computers are much more accurate than humans, so we can be confident of their reliability if they pass that test.”

Professor Ugail and colleagues also took the chance to 'reverse age’ Angelina Jolie, turning the clock back on the Hollywood star to age six.  “When we compared these to real images of the actress as a child, the similarities were striking,” he says.

The system can also offer couples the opportunity to see what their unborn children might look like. By uploading an image of the prospective mother and father, the system can generate an image of the potential offspring. 

Originally, the software was developed to identify terrorist suspects in crowds, and Professor Ugail is keen to highlight its potential to contribute positively to society: “The software is a lot of fun, but there is a serious side to it. It could be used in security applications help authorities create more realistic portraits of wanted criminals, or to help trace missing children and adults,” he says.

The team intends to make the software available to a wider audience and are discussing the potential of creating an app.

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