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Sun, Nov 28, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Program lets you know in advance what your kids are going to look like

Researchers tweaked a software program used for identifying criminals to create`Predict Your Child'

Prince William may be the most eligible man in Britain, but would he give me good-looking children? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

Those aristocratically fleshy noses, the lantern jaws -- and don't even get me started on those chins. So, with apologies to the royal one, I must cross him off my list of prospective partners -- well, it's a harsh world out there and one has to take into account a variety of considerations when choosing a partner.

Conveniently, a computer program is now on hand to help us all do just that.

Predict Your Child, a program designed by two researchers at Stirling University in Scotland, allows couples to see what their future offspring could look like. It does cost a small fee -- ?25 -- but how can one put a price on knowing you are not wasting your time with someone who would give you unattractive kids?

The researchers, Charlie Frowd and Peter Hancock, were inspired to create the software by their work helping to identify criminals.

"We had been working for some time with a very sophisticated photofit computer program in which we could mix features of different faces as directed by the victims in order to draw up a picture of the criminal, and we thought, why can't we do this cross-breeding with normal people?" said Frowd.

Using a photograph of each of the future parents, the researchers give the program a set of "genes," or parameters, that describe the faces. The software then randomly mixes up the genes and produces an image of the result.

Accuracy, apparently, is not guaranteed.

"Each time the computer produces a different result because the genes are mixed differently, as in reality," said Dr Frowd.

The researchers have not yet tested it on a couple who already have children to see how closely the computer's predictions match the real thing.

And so far, no couples have decided to end their relationships when faced with unfortunate looking children, "and I very much hope none do," Frowd said.

But let's cut to the point: are there any tricks for producing more attractive children?

"I don't think there are any guarantees," Frowd said. "Each time you breed, the kids will look different. Sometimes a child looks not very attractive, other times they look like a model."

So the trick is to have lots of children and hope that you hit the target eventually?

"Yes."

But this sounds too vague for me. The most common theory (in the world of women's magazines, anyway) is that one should look for an alpha partner, and you surely can't get more alpha than the future ruler of the realm, Prince William.

But unfortunately, even combined with my peasant genes, I wouldn't find our children's posh-English looks attractive. Frowd agreed: "They do have a kind of Windsor influence and I don't think that family is very attractive," he said.

Perhaps I need to update my definition of "alpha." So what about a more modern kind of royalty, like the current king of British pop music, Pete Doherty, formerly of The Libertines? The British music magazine NME has just this week anointed him "Cool Icon of 2004" -- and you can't get more alpha than that.

So I push Wills away and breed with Pete and, predictably, I produce beautiful children with this "punk soap opera spiked with criminality, heroin and homoeroticism," to use a recent magazine description.

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