It is bad enough that your social media ‘friends’ could judge you based on your ‘likes’ on Facebook. Now? A computer can predict your personality better than friends and family. Only your spouse is better at picking up on your eccentricities. I mean your personality.

The joint study was conducted by Cambridge and Stanford University. By ‘mining’ for likes on Facebook, the computer simulation breached an important milestone on creating more natural and social interactions between computers and humans.

You thought the movie Her was odd? Imagine it happening in real life. Ms. Wu Youyou, lead author from Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre explained the future implications of the research.

“In the future, computers could be able to infer our psychological traits and react accordingly, leading to the emergence of emotionally-intelligent and socially skilled machines.”

Researchers used the average baseline of a Facebook user – 227 likes. Using 70 likes, the computer was able to predict someone’s character better than a friend or a roommate. Bumping it to 150 likes, it was able to outperform your parents and siblings.

It took just 300 likes for the computer to judge character better than a spouse. Using the base average, the computer is able to guess your character better than most of your closest friends and relatives.

Researchers relied on 86,220 volunteers on Facebook who completed a 100-item questionnaire that measured personality traits, and allowed their Facebook likes to be mined.

The questionnaire provided a self-reporting of the ‘big-five’ psychological traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness.

Along with the data mining and questionnaire, family and friends of the volunteer were also quizzed using a shorter questionnaire.

Ethical Concerns

Looking at the research, it’s easy to see how this could be used. Employers could use a computer to screen personalities, and advertisers could base ads around your changing moods.

It sounds interesting, but the privacy concerns are extreme. It would also lead to people sanitizing social media. The very thing social media relies on would be crippled. Openness.

If you knew your ‘likes’ are being mined and judged, how often would you use the a site? Would you change habits? Does it take into account backseat activism? Sure, I may click on Greenpeace’s cool image, but does that make you hardcore environmentalist? The examples are endless.

Still, it’s an interesting study. It also shows that people are more open with their feelings online than in person. I’m just not sure that’s something we should encourage.


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