Why you should care
Because that looming heart attack could be hiding in your reflection.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? When doe-eyed, pixieish Pavla Baxová asked the other day, she got an answer she didn’t much like. Her body morphed. Her spine shriveled. And on the other side of the mirror, her heart sputtered. Like a “scene straight out of a sci-fi film,” says the 30-year-old project manager in Copenhagen. But this was her future reflection, in plain view — 10 years from now and counting.
By 50, they say, you’ll have the face you deserve, and now a new generation of mirrors wants to bring you face-to-face with the truism. By extrapolating from your current behaviors, vitals and bone and muscle structure, these augmented-reality mirrors act as a high-tech window into your not-so-distant future. The Smart Mirror at MIT measures your heart rate as you stand in front of it. And the Wize Mirror in Italy highlights hard-to-see changes in your body, such as increased fatigue, minute metabolic imbalances and more. Baxová’s posture is poor, so when she stood before the Future Self Mirror, it reflected her backbone askew. No black magic involved at all, says creator Riccardo Cereser, just “data visualization to the extreme.”
But how does it all work? These smart mirrors overlay a graphics user interface over partially reflective glass. A multispectral camera tracks your movements and a 3-D scanner analyzes your physique. Facial recognition software inspects your face shape to determine weight loss or gain. Meanwhile, built-in sensors can detect signs of stress and other visual data. The mirrors could also be combined with other health-related apps to keep track of your calorie count, vital signs, fitness level and sleep quality. So, by the time you’ve nicked yourself shaving or smeared lipstick on your teeth, you’ll have a good idea of what you’ll look like in a few months and even a few years.
The big idea is that today’s habits shape tomorrow’s reflection, Cereser says. And so, while mirrors have gotten a bad rap since the time of Narcissus, the smart mirror promises to instill virtue. Developers hope that the time spent in front of the mirror can be used to continually monitor your health and proactively report any changes before they get serious, says Giuseppe Coppini, a scientific coordinator for the Wize Mirror. According to a study from AOL and the Today show, women spend an average of 55 minutes in front of the mirror every day, whereas men spend 39 minutes every day. And during that small but daily window, smart mirrors can keep tabs on your health, akin to how the Fitbit counts your steps or how the Apple Watch tracks your sleep. Except the smart mirror is upgrading an everyday object that’s already in our homes, and providing people with more “granular” data that may otherwise slip under their noses until their yearly checkups, says Neil Sehgal, a health systems researcher at the University of California in San Francisco.
By the time you’ve smeared lipstick on your teeth, you’ll have a good idea of what you’ll look like in a few years.
It doesn’t have to be only behind closed (bathroom) doors, either. Coppini wants to roll out the Wize Mirror, still in prototype, to gyms, schools, pharmacies and other spaces that could benefit from a more subtle health-monitoring device that blends seamlessly into the natural environment. For instance, Fugen Neziroğlu, president of OCD New York and director of the Bio Behavioral Institute, says she could use a smart mirror for her patients with body dysmorphic disorder to help “reflect them in a positive light” and boost their self-image.
Still, other health care professionals are calling the numbers into question, which have yet to be “rigorously validated” by scientists and academics. Doctors often don’t want your Fitbit data, says Sehgal, because fitness trackers and the like first need to be put through the wringer. After all, “we haven’t reached the tipping point at which that data can be put into practice,” he notes.
Coppini responds that these smart mirrors don’t feign to be full-fledged medical devices. The goal is not to edge out the middleman — in this case, the doctor — but rather to work with them. Early detection is key to grappling with a whole slew of fatal diseases, he adds. The more data points you have about your body, the better you’ll understand what your doctor means by “hemoglobin levels” or “cardiometabolic risk.” Besides, in a world chock-full of numbers and gadgets, augmented-reality mirrors can help you visualize what you can’t yet envision: how that new standing desk will trim your muscle mass, or how that new nicotine patch will improve your lungs down the road.
Now all we need is a snazzy crystal ball to divine the rest of our future — maybe with our future hubby and our future flying Tesla and our future iMansion and … well, you get the picture.