When a woman in her early 20s tried out the online app,  (FaceMyAge), submitting her photo and demographic details, it came back with an age of mid-30s. “That is absolutely incorrect,” she emailed the company. “There must be a flaw in your software.”

“I said fine, let me have a look,” FaceMyAge co-founder Karl Ricanek, Jr., tells WRALTechWire. He looked at the photo she had submitted and thought right away she was in her mid-20s. But, using analysis software developed at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington over the last decade, the app found things that indicated an older age. She had forehead lines indicating an older person and the areas under her eyes were dark and baggy.

“What we did,” Ricanek said, “Was simulate a make-over using Photoshop. We removed the forehead lines and added makeup under the eyes, resubmitted the image and it came back with her age correct at 23 instead of 36.”

Two of the potential commercial uses

That points to two potential commercial uses for the FaceMyAge app as it is further refined, Ricanek said: cosmetics and plastic surgery. If you can show a woman exactly how to look younger with make-up, you’re probably going to sell some make-up.

FaceMyAge, a subsidiary of Iapetus Software Inc., (Iapetus is the Greek god of mortality) released the app, its first product in July. Eventually, “This is intended to ascertain a relationship between face age and lifespan,” said Ricanek, who has a PhD in electrical engineering and is director of UNCW’s Face Aging Group Research Lab.

Ricanek established the Face Aging Group in 2003 and it was granted ISIS institute status in 2010. It has received more than $10 million in research grants since its founding.

Part of the initial phase of operations for FaceMyAge is to collect faces (and data) “in the wild to validate the process.

More than 1.4 million people have accessed the FaceMyAge page and it has a conversion rate of 30 percent of all users and 60 percent of desktop users (conversion in this case meaning those who use the app to get a result. Anyone in the website or app business knows those are outstanding numbers.

Connecting a youthful face to lifespan

“We know that long-lived people, centenarians, look young for their age and most long-lived people looked younger than their age all through their adult lives,” Ricanek said. “Their offspring also tend to look younger. So we think there are some genetic traits there indicating they’re aging slower than the rest of the population.”

While cosmetics and plastic surgery are commercial targets down the road, the first and most lucrative uses might be to help the insurance and financial industries come up with more accurate estimates of a person’s lifespan. Even a marginal increase in accuracy over current methods would excite them, Ricanek said. For one thing, other methods of accessing lifespan such as genetic testing are far more complex and expensive than analyzing a face.

Insurance firms interested in even marginal improvement

For individuals doing financial planning, it could prevent them from making costly mistakes. Ricanek himself went to a financial planner, gave him his demographic information, including that both his mother and father had died relatively young and asked for retirement planning. He said he planned to retire at 67 and wanted to know if he was on the right financial track. He asked the planner what lifespan number he plugged into his analysis.

“92,” was the reply. Why? “That’s the arbitrary number we always use.”

“People can make poor decisions by throwing some arbitrary number like 92 into their calculations,” Ricanek pointed out. They might, for instance, buy an annuity instrument based on that number, when their actual lifespan is more likely only 75. You would lose a great deal of the money put into that annuity, because, “that’s dead money,” Ricanek said.

“We can provide a much better, more detailed analysis of lifespan now just using the parts of the software that already exist,” Ricanek said. His co-founder, S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of public health at the University of Chicago, has been informing life insurance companies on best practices in analyzing longevity for the last three years.”

Ricanek said that industry professionals and CEOs have told them that if they can build and validate the facial analysis app and “Make even a marginal improvement over current methods– even less than one percent – it would still be substantial in their market. “These insurance companies are a multi-billion dollar market,” he added. “Trillion-dollar worldwide.”

The company hopes to be in a position to “Disrupt the industry” within 18 months. It is seeking funding and will appear at the upcoming RocketPitch event with other startups at the inaugural Coastal Connect Entrepreneur and Capital Conference Sept. 4 (see sidebar) and the CED Tech Venture Conference Sept. 16-17.