Magic mirror shows habits' effect

Wednesday, May 21st 2008, 5:11 pm
By: News 9

By Melissa Maynarich, NEWS 9

New technology called the "magic mirror" can reflect the toll bad habits will have on a person's looks.

Jon Melko said he's active, and although he does have some bad habits, he said he's fit.

"If I'm not working, I'm usually in the water diving, swimming, fishin'," Melko said.

He does admit to occasionally drinking, eating fast food and smoking. Knowing these things aren't exactly healthy, he wonders what the toll will be on his body a couple years from now if he keeps the habits up.

Andrew Fano of Accenture Labs Research Director said the new magic mirror device may have his answer.

"Rather than simply provide reflection, what it does is make a transformation on the image and show it back to the person," Fano said. "That transformation is intended to approximate what somebody might look like if somebody continues to engage in a prolonged set of behaviors."

It's called a persuasive mirror. Under development by Accenture Labs, the hope is people will be able to see how they'll look in the future, and maybe change bad behaviors because of it.

"The idea is a picture is worth a thousand warnings," Fano said.

A person answers a list of questions about his or her habits. The information is input into a special software program which matches the person's data with pictures taken by digital cameras connected to the mirror.

"What we do to make the mirror aspect of this work is interpolate an intermediate image," Fano said. "It's on this intermediate image that we apply a series of transformations that are intended to show the effect of certain behaviors."

The mirror is no toy. The lab sees the mirror as a tool for health providers in the future, and that's why researchers at the University of California San Diego recently put it to the test. They just completed a study to see how persuasive the mirror might be.

Their subjects were children, a group who are a major concern when it comes to obesity.

"It's one thing to tell someone to stop smoking, or to eat less," Fano said. "It's another to show them what happens if they don't, or also to show them what happens if they do."

After seeing his results, Melko said he plans to eat better and quit smoking.

The results of the study at UCSF won't be out for several months. The information found will then be used to continue fine-tuning the mirror before taking it to the rest of the medical community.