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This Computer Reads Your Friends Better Than You Do

We generally think of robots and computers as task-centric machines; dedicated to reading instructions, not personalities. We attribute computers with the possession of artificial, and perhaps “IQ,” intelligence, but certainly not “emotional” intelligence.

According to recent studies conducted at Stanford University and the University of Cambridge, artificially intelligent computers can assess a person’s feelings more accurately than can humans - with the possible exception of the subject’s spouse.

This finding is remarkable on many levels:

  • Humans assess others’ feeling in milliseconds, using hundreds of subtle visual, audible and historical impressions.
  • We use these assessments to determine friend or foe, good mood or bad, trustworthy or dishonest, social status, and sexual attraction.
  • Personality assessment is used by corporate recruiters and dating sites. It is also used in competitive sports and personal relationships.
  • These findings may affect your next hire, team development or even your marriage.
  • Computers may be able to accurately predict the music, art, food, clothes, books, people and jobs you will like, or dislike.  Perhaps they already can: think Pandora, Apple Music,, etc.

A computer program used a small number of Facebook “likes” to determine a subject's personality, their mood, their likelihood of substance abuse, race, gender, sexual, religious and political orientation, and IQ intelligence.  

The computer assessed five basic personality dimensions:
  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

The computer used artificial intelligence to predict these attributes with 93 - 95% accuracy.  Greater than professional analysts, greater than the friends and family of the subjects.

How much data did the computer need?

86,200 human subjects took the personality test; the subjects’ friends and family then filled out a short personality-profile questionnaire. 
Researchers measured the number of Facebook likes the computer needed before it could make a personality assessment more precise than the humans closest to someone.

  • With 10 random Facebook likes, the computer beat co-workers in predicting personality. 
  • With 70 likes, the computer was more accurate than friends. 
  • With 150 likes, it out assessed relatives. 
  • And, at 300 likes, the computer could determine the subject's personality better than their own spouse.

The researchers noted, 
This is an emphatic demonstration of the ability of a person's psychological traits to be discovered by an analysis of data, not requiring any person-to-person interaction.
It shows that machines can get to know us better than we'd previously thought, a crucial step in interactions between people and computers.”
The findings also suggest that 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.”

The study and data:

(c) David J. Katz, New York City

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