John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
This World Bank-supported project asks, "What's my place in the world population? How long will I live?"
If you had the chance to know your exact day of death, would you take it?
That philosophical pickle, so often floating up in late-night bar debates, is the subject of an intriguing World Bank-supported visualization of global life expectancy. Head to the "World Population Project" and enter your birthday, sex, and nationality, and the site will spit out projections about your imminent doom—and, for perspective, how it relates to others' mortality around the planet. (Note that it's a beta version, and they still seem to be ironing out a few glitches.)
For example, a woman in the U.S. born on November 24, 1985, should expect to live to the terrifyingly precise date of September 6, 2072. If she happens to be an "average world citizen," that day of reckoning could be fast-tracked more than five years to January 22, 2067. And if you share this birth date and are freaking out, know that there are about 327,320 others who were also born then and presumably reside in the same sinking boat.
For ghouls who want to stay on top of their predicted demise, the site will send reminders on your birthday. Heck, it'll even stick a morbid note into your iCalendar.
These predictions are bound to be grossly off base in individual cases, as they're numerical extrapolations from the 2012 version of the UN’s World Population Prospects. The folks who made the visualization—Wolfgang Fengler, K.C. Samir, Benedikt Groß, and others—offer this caveat:
There remain data quality issues, especially for developing countries. It is also important to note that, especially for the projection of life expectancy, the system is calculating the mid-points of probability functions (see section on methodology). Life expectancy, however, is determined by many factors and Population.io only highlights three of them: existing age, gender, and country of birth/residence. Life expectancy will also be shaped by many future developments, some of which will be unforeseen.