Ladies and gentlemen, you have a new best friend – and you may not even know it yet. It really knows you, and it’s always there for you – providing it doesn’t run out of battery that is. A new study has shown that our computers know us better than our friends do – which is terrifying and impressive in (almost) equal measure – and that our Facebook likes reveal a shocking amount about us.
A new study has shown that computer-based personality judgements are more accurate than those of family and friends, by mining our Facebook likes. Only husbands and wives were able to take on the computer’s mad skills in knowing what we’re like.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that this is happening – Facebook is incredibly invasive generally – and machines are able to use big data analysis methods to predict our behaviour (although arguably this will never be totally accurate without the human element); computers also don’t forget, and aren’t limited by the spectrum of human emotions and experiences. “Computers don’t care if you’re a man, woman, old, young, black, or white,” Kosinski (one of the three people behind the paper) says. “This gives us a cheap, massive, fake-proof algorithm to judge the personality of millions of people at once.”
The researchers found that their software was able to predict a study participant’s personality more accurately than a work colleague by analysing just 10 likes. By 70 likes it had a better picture of someone’s character than their friends or flatmates, and at just 150 likes even better than a parent or sibling – the people that you grew up with. It took 300 likes before the programme was able to judge character better than a spouse though; given that an average Facebook user has about 227 likes, the researchers say this kind of artificial intelligence has the potential to know us better than our closest companions. The computers’ results were compared to shorter personality tests the participants’ families and friends completed.
Computer scientists say this is a milestone on the rocky road to more natural interactions between humans and computers; it’s also a testament to how much time we spend online. The average person checks their phone 150 times a day and spends more time online than they do asleep, and Twitter and Facebook have been said to be more addictive than smoking.
There could be some benefits in the long term though. Lead author Ms Wu Youyou, from Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, 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.” It could also be used to help choose future employees, or even a spouse. On the other hand, the drawbacks are pretty obvious too: scientists do say it could raise further privacy concerns, and that people should have full control of their digital footprint.
Another study by Kosinski last year looked at the intimate secrets our Facebook likes reveal; analysis of the data showed which likes equated with higher levels of particular traits. For instance, liking The Godfather, or Lord of the Rings, was linked to having a high IQ. It also had a 75% accuracy rate for predicting drug use among Facebook users, and 88% for predicting a male’s sexuality.
Here are some more of the personality trait and predictive likes, according to the study:
Emotional stability – neurotic
So So Happy
Emotional stability – calm and relaxed
Wicked the Musical
Human Rights Campaign
Not Being Pregnant
The L Word
Sometimes I Just Lay In Bed and Think About Life
It also had the categories ‘Parents separated at 21’ and ‘Parents did not separate at 21’.
So, whilst it opens up exciting possibilities it also makes us think twice about that mindless click of a button; otherwise what you could be ‘liking’ is the slow erosion of our privacy.