How well does your best friend know you? Chances are, Facebook understands you better.
A new study, published Monday in the journal PNAS, suggests that computers are now better judges of character than your friends, family, and even your partners.
The project, conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge and Stanford, used an algorithm to calculate the average number of “Likes” a computer needs to draw a remarkably accurate identification of who you are.
In the study, 86,200 people completed personality questionnaires via the myPersonality app and provided access to their Facebook Likes.
Computerized judgments based on Facebook Likes of a specific participant were then compared with the judgments of people based on their familiarity with that participant. The judgments related to predictions about life outcomes such as substance abuse, political attitudes, and physical health.
In a statement researchers said, “Given enough Likes, the computers came closer to a person’s self-reported personality than their brothers, mothers, or partners.”
The researchers add: “In the study, a computer could more accurately predict the subject’s personality than a work colleague by analysing just 10 Likes; more than a friend or a cohabitant (roommate) with 70, a family member (parent, sibling) with 150, and a spouse with 300 Likes.”
Researchers at the UK and US institutions describe the findings as an “emphatic demonstration” of the capacity of computers. They say AI is now so equipped to discover people’s psychological traits, through “pure data analysis,” it knows us better than we previously thought.
“It’s an important milestone on the path towards more social human-computer interactions,” they note.
Wu Youyou, a lead author at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, adds: “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.”
Today, the average Facebook user has about 227 Likes, a number that is increasing. Researchers say it shows AI “has the potential to know us better than our companions.” They also note a previous study that brought similar results, again underpinning the fact digital records are able to “expose intimate details and personality traits” in human beings.
Dr. Michal Kosinski is a researcher at Stanford who says machines have a couple of key advantages: the ability to retain and access vast quantities of information and the ability to analyse it with algorithms.
He says it’s a “concern” and adds: “We hope that consumers, technology developers, and policymakers will tackle those challenges by supporting privacy-protecting laws and technologies and giving the users full control over their digital footprints.”