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Facebook knows You Better Than Your Members Of Your Own Family

Your operating system knows you so well, says science

Nobody knows us better than our family and friends, right? Who else could predict how we’ll react to good and bad news?

Computers can determine your personality better than friends, just by analysing the posts you have ‘liked’ on Facebook, a Cambridge University study has shown.

See also: Facebook has now more than 100 million users in Africa

Facebook, for one. Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University studied how Facebook Likes matched up with people’s own answers on personality tests, as well those of their close family and friends. With enough Likes of objects, brands, people, music or books, the computer was better at predicting a person’s personality than most of the people closest to them—with the exception of spouses. (They still know us best, it seems.)

Wu Youyou, a PhD student in the Psychometrics Center at the University of Cambridge, and her colleagues had previously investigated how computer models could predict demographic and psychological traits in people. But inspired by the movie Her, they were curious about how the models would do in evaluating personality traits.

On average, people on Facebook had 227 Likes, and this was enough information for the computer to be a better predictor of personality than an average human judge (in other words, a friend), and almost as good as a spouse.

The team found that their software was able to predict a study participant’s personality more accurately than a work colleague by analysing just 10 ‘Likes’.

Inputting 70 ‘Likes’ allowed it to obtain a truer picture of someone’s character than a friend or room-mate, while 150 ‘Likes’ outperformed a parent, sibling or partners. It took 300 ‘Likes’ before the programme was able to judge character better than a spouse.

Likes are used by Facebook users to express positive association with online and offline objects, such as products, activities, sports, musicians, books, restaurants, or websites. Given the variety of objects, subjects,brands, and people that can be liked and the number of Facebook users (over 1.3 billion), Likes represent one of the most generic kinds of digital footprint.

“We know people are pretty good at predicting people’s personality traits, because it’s such an important thing in all of our interactions,” says Youyou. “But we were surprised by how computers were able to do better than most friends by using just a single kind of digital data such as Facebook Likes.”

Lead author 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.

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

In Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix, a man develops a close relationship with an intelligent computer operating system personified by a female voice and calling itself Samantha.

But the scientists admit there may be concerns about privacy as such technology develops, and say they support policies giving users full control over their digital footprint.

The work, reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, builds on a previous study by Cambridge University scientists which showed that a variety of psychological and demographic characteristics can be predicted through Facebook Likes.

For the new research, 86,220 volunteers on Facebook completed a 100-item personality questionnaire and allowed their ‘Likes’ to be accessed.

The results of the computerised character assessment were compared with judgements of friends and family members made using a shorter version of the personality test.

Given enough ‘Likes’, the software matched people’s self-reported personality traits more closely than family members.

Potentially the technology could influence who we employ, elect, or even marry, say the scientists.

PhD student Ms Youyou added: “Recruiters could better match candidates with jobs based on their personality; products and services could adjust their behaviour to best match their users’ characters and changing moods.

“People may choose to augment their own intuitions and judgments with this kind of data analysis when making important life decisions such as choosing activities, career paths, or even romantic partners. Such data-driven decisions may well improve people’s lives.”

But the researchers share the concerns of those who fear a dystopian future in which our traits and habits become an “open book” for computers to read.

Dr Michal Kosinski, another member of the team from Stanford University in the US, said: “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.”

Sources: [telegraphy.co.uk, time.com]

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