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The #10YearChallenge: Good or bad?

January 29, 2019
By Younes Medkour

These two pictures are 23 years apart. #23YearChallenge

What does getting soaked in ice-cold water have in common with creating a then-and-now photo collage of yourself? Both could potentially contribute to solutions for some of society's unresolved problems.

Every now and then, a new game appears on social media. The most recent is the 10-year challenge. It consists of creating a photo collage with two pictures: a recent picture of yourself and one from 10 years ago. Participants then post the resulting image on Facebook or Instagram. 

This challenge went viral in a few hours. We can read comments where people make fun of their friends for getting older. Others get compliments for looking younger and healthier than 10 years ago.

The conspiracy theory

Unfortunately, like previous games, the 10-year challenge has received some negative attention. In an opinion piece for Wired, the author argues that Facebook could potentially be using this challenge to benefit their agenda.

Facebook has been under the radar since the privacy scandal that forced its CEO to face U.S. Congress. The author for Wired jumped on the occasion to argue that the social media giant might be using the 10-year challenge to train a facial recognition algorithm to study the evolution of facial traits by examining the progression of physical characteristics through time. 

She explains that the challenge provides Facebook with a curated dataset of then-and-now pictures that would help improve the ability of the algorithm to guess how people would look when they get older. Obviously, this has many implications for our privacy.

I can’t argue against this plot, but should we really care? We are already giving Facebook everything it needs to create this algorithm, which it probably already has. The challenge would only speed up the process of optimizing their algorithm because it provides Facebook with a clean dataset.

The benefits of this challenge

I believe there are important benefits that can be drawn from this challenge. Let’s imagine this conspiracy theory turns out to be well-founded and that Facebook is using the challenge to optimize their facial recognition software.

A better facial recognition algorithm means enhanced security in vulnerable areas like airports, high schools and subways. Cameras can be trained to recognize faces. The software can help solve crimes by identifying or locating criminals. It can also help find missing children. In fact, the police of New Delhi used a facial recognition software to track nearly 3,000 children in just four days. 

Can you imagine a scenario where developers improve this software because of this challenge?

It is true that such improvements could threaten our privacy by enabling mass surveillance, but as with everything, proper regulation is necessary to reduce misuse.

#10YearChallenge and anti-aging research

Finally, an additional benefit of this challenge could be raising awareness on the effect of aging on our lives. Two-thirds of daily global deaths are due to aging, making it the number one cause of deaths in the world. Yet, anti-aging research remains poorly funded as shown in a report by the National Institute of Health, where even research on rare diseases is getting more capital.

Analogous to this challenge is the ALS ice-bucket challenge which became so popular that influencers like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos participated in it. This challenge has raised nearly $115 million, of which two-thirds directly contributed to research to treat this disease. Since then, clinicians approved many trials, which are currently underway.

What if this 10-year challenge can have a similar outcome and raise awareness on aging, leading to influencers investing money in anti-aging research? If you haven’t participated in the new trend, don’t be a lone wolf. I invite you to create this photo collage and post it on social media. You could be contributing to a solution for many of our societal problems.

About the author

Younes Medkour received his Bachelor's degree in Biology from Concordia University. He is now a doctoral candidate studying aging in Dr. Vladimir Titorenko’s laboratory. He co-leads a research project that resulted in the discovery of the most potent anti-aging pharmacological intervention. He is currently working on unveiling the mechanisms by which this extract extends longevity and delays the onset of diseases related to old age, such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. 


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