With the notorious Peeple app set for release in November, are you ready to receive your personal five star rating? How much can a future employer really tell about who you are? Could a computer algorithm match you with the love of your life? With the world wearing its heart on its sleeve through social media, it’s time to brace ourselves for the rise of personality tech.
An open source example of this technology has been released by IBM; a new Watson Personality Insights tool, as a means for analysing online personalities. It took me about 5 minutes to copy and paste some of my Exeposé articles into the textbox and submit, as you need to input at least 3500 words for any results to be statistically significant. I was startled by how accurately it seemed to have profiled me, identifying that I am “philosophical” (I study Politics and Philosophy), and that I “prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment”. These would seem to be pretty astute observations, even coming from a friend.
But is this anything more than a digital horoscope? Am I inevitably going to agree with the profile? How personal is the analysis really? Watson Personality Insights are based on the established psychological theory that our choice of words reflects intimate details about our personal, mental, social and emotional tendencies. By using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) psycholinguistics dictionary, the analysis uses 68 different significant categories with hundreds of words associated with each one. When you input your own prose into the tool, the words are plucked from their original context and are used to categorise you. The personality profile that IBM is attempting to build, is derived from the OCEAN mnemonic – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – as well as individual needs and values.
While this might sound reductive, not far off building a character in The Sims, these personality profiles are set to become increasingly significant in the coming years. IBM is, unsurprisingly, looking to apply the technology to targeted advertising and customer acquisition software. After all, that’s where the money is. However, IBM is also looking into uses in job applications, helping improve your CV compared to those of your peers, as well as better matching for dating websites and apps. You might find yourself swiping right increasingly when it comes to Tinder matches of the future.
IBM Watson Personality Insights still has it limitations, having only been tested on tweets, emails, blogs, wikis, and forum posts. Clearly there is much more to be revealed from our extended writing, audio transcripts and other social interactions. However, no matter how accurate the profiling becomes, do we really want to be prescreened by algorithms as a precursor to the old-fashioned face-to-face conversation? Will the more unusual personality types out there find themselves facing a new kind of digital prejudice?
The release of the Peeple app will raise all sorts of questions about privacy, consent, personality and social norms. Perhaps the clock really is ticking for a world where actions speak louder than words.