Cambridge Researchers Claim That Computers Understand People Better Than Friends and Family

Cambridge University researchers have found that, based on enough Facebook Likes, computers can judge your personality traits better than your friends, family, and even your partner. Using a new algorithm, researchers have calculated the average number of Likes that Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs need to draw personality inferences about you as accurately as your partner or parents.

The results of the study are reported in the paper “Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). The paper is freely available online through the PNAS open access option.

Facebook LikeAccurate Personality Predictions From Facebook Likes

The Cambridge researchers came up with accuracy comparisons between computer algorithms and the personality judgments made by humans. The results show that by mining Facebook Likes, the computer model was able to predict a person’s personality more accurately than most of their friends and family. Given enough Likes to analyze, only a person’s spouse rivaled the computer for accuracy of broad psychological traits.

Lead author Wu Youyou, from Cambridge’s Psychometrics Center, said:

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. In this context, the human-computer interactions depicted in science fiction films such as Her seem to be within our reach.

Spike Jonze‘s film Her is a love story between a human and his personal AI assistant Samantha, “an intuitive entity that listens to you, understands you, and knows you.” The technology of thinking, feeling, lovable software like Samantha is decades away. Yet, a fast growing number of experts are persuaded that true artificial intelligence will be developed someday in this century and that the time of AI – real, conscious software persons – will come. See my full review of Her here.

Also read: Research Priorities for Artificial Intelligence – Open Letter

The researchers concede that detection of some personality traits might be best left to human abilities, those without digital footprints or dependent on subtle cognition. In fact, I took the Facebook personality test of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Center – Apply Magic Sauce translates individuals’ digital footprints into detailed psychological profiles. The result were spectacularly wrong: the test results for my gender, age group, relationship status, political and religious preferences, as estimated by Facebook social footprint analysis, were all wrong! That should be good news for those who fear that AI technology is developing too fast.

Images from Cambridge University and  Shutterstock.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.