Death Risk Rankings Provides 'Death Calculator'

The Death Risk Rankings website, created by researchers and students at Carnegie Mellon University, provides you with a means of calculating your risk of dying in the next year. As such, it is an early attempt at a Death Calculator.

It works by calculating your odds of picking a "MicroMort" - a purple ball of death - from the container that is your life.

Suppose that you had a giant urn filled with one million balls (1,000,000). Some of these balls are purple and some are green. Every year, you reach into the urn and randomly draw a ball. If it is green, you will live one more year, but if it is purple, you will die within the year. We call this thought experiment the purple balls of death, and emphasize that each purple ball represents one chance in a million of dying in the next year – a MicroMort.

DeathRiskRankings.org will tell you how many purple balls someone like you has in their urn... You must remember that the MicroMort estimates on this site are based on actual death certificates from the past seven years, and therefore, the website calculates death risks for the average person in each population group (or cohort). The question is, for your, age, lifestyle, and health choices, how many purple balls are in your urn? Depending on your lifestyle, your risk could be dramatically higher (if you are an obese, drunken skydiver) or lower (if you are a vegetarian aerobics instructor) than the values shown, but the results provide a good starting point to think about the risks that you face.

As it happens, the idea that it might be possible to scientifically predict when you will die is the subject of Robert Heinlein's first published story. In Lifeline, published in 1939, Dr. Hugo Pinero presents an interesting and plausible scenario for calculating the date of a person's death.


(Chronovitameter view of human life)

He stepped up to one of the reporters. "Suppose we take you as an example. Your name is Rogers, is it not? Very well, Rogers, you are a space-time event having duration four ways. You are not quite six feet tall, you are about twenty inches wide and perhaps ten inches thick. In time, there stretches behind you more of this space-time event, reaching to perhaps nineteen-sixteen, of which we see a cross-section here at right angles to the time axis, and as thick as the present. At the far end is a baby, smelling of sour milk and drooling its breakfast on its bib. At the other end lies, perhaps, an old man someplace in the nineteen-eighties.

"Imagine this space-time event that we call Rogers as a long pink worm, continuous through the years, one end in his mother's womb, and the other at the grave..."

"Now think of our long pink worm as a conductor of electricity. You have heard, perhaps, of the fact that electrical engineers can, by certain measurements, predict the exact location of a break in a trans-Atlantic cable without ever leaving the shore. By applying my instruments to the cross-section here in this room I can tell where the break occurs, that is to say, when death takes place."
(Read more about the Chronovitameter)

In passing, I find it interesting that Dr. Pinero is yet another figure who finds himself unpopular with the insurance agencies due to the development of new technology.

Visit the Death Risk Rankings; via Livescience.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 8/29/2009)

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