Are you a shy person with a snarky sense of humor who secretly craves hugs? You might be able to conceal that from your friends, but not from your computer. A new study of Facebook data shows that machines are now better at sussing out our true personalities than even our closest acquaintances.
The idea for the study came together last year when psychologist Youyou Wu and computer scientist Michal Kosinski, then both at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, watched Her, a 2013 science fiction film in which a man falls in love with his computer operating system. “By analyzing his digital records, his computer can understand and respond to his thoughts and needs much better than other humans,” Wu says, “including his long-term girlfriend and closest friends.” Wu and Kosinski wondered: Is that possible in real life?
They had access to a perfect data set to put the idea to the test. In 2007, their colleague David Stillwell, another Cambridge psychologist, created a Facebook app called myPersonality. With consent, users give the app abundant personal data. Not only do they grant access to Facebook info such as their likes and list of friends, but they also take standard psychological tests and answer survey questions. Their only rewards are the results of those psychological tests and a synopsis of how they compare with the rest of the myPersonality user population.
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