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The day arrived: Facebook knows you more than your friends

The day arrived: Facebook knows you more than your friends

July 23, 2024

A study published recently in PNAS concludes that a computer is capable of predict more accurately the personality of a person than their own friends and family ... from the analysis of some of the data we have left in Facebook .

The researchers conclude that, by analyzing 10 "likes", a computer can describe our personality better than our co-workers; with 70, better than our friends or roommates; with 150, better than a family member; and with 300, better than a spouse. This shows that the machines, despite not having the social skills to interpret the language and human intentions, may be able to make valid judgments about us by accessing our fingerprint on the Internet .

Facebook knows you more than your own friends

For this research, a personality test based on the Big Five model was provided to 86,220 people. Each one of them had to fill out these 100-item forms designed to record information about the different traits that define our way of acting, perceiving and feeling things.

In addition to having the information obtained through the personality tests, some volunteers also gave their permission for the research team to analyze the "I like it" they had given from their Facebook accounts. These "likes" were not those that can be clicked on Facebook, photos or videos, but those associated with pages about movies, books, TV shows, celebrities, etc.

Later, a software found trends and existing relationships between personality traits and certain preferences by one or another page located in this social network. For example, it was found that people with a high score on the "Opening to Change" feature tend to show a fondness for Salvador Dalí or the TED Talks, while the extroverts show a taste for dancing. It may turn out to be a conclusion that stems from stereotypes, and yet there is empirical evidence to support these ideas.

While the software played to learn how human behavior works, a group was formed with the others evaluators who had to predict personality scores of the volunteers. This group was made up of friends, relatives and acquaintances of the participants who had completed the test. Each one of these judges of flesh and bone should describe the personality of the evaluated subject by filling in a questionnaire. The results (somewhat humiliating for our species) that lead the article emerged at Compare the degree of accuracy with which humans and machines predict personality scores. Only a husband or wife can rival the personality models generated by computer from a few data obtained by Facebook.

Electronic brains

How can the software speak with such accuracy about aspects that define us and make us unique? The biggest advantage they have over us is their access to massive amounts of information staff and its ability to relate data with others and find patterns of behavior in fractions of a second. Thanks to this, the models of personality generated by computer can predict certain patterns of behavior automatically, without the need for social skills and with more precision than human beings.

As a consequence, today we are closer to know the traits certain aspects of the psychology of people without having to interact with them face to face , after that information about movies, books and celebrities that we like go through a kitchen of algorithms. Taking into account that the average of "I like" that each one of us has accumulated in Facebook is around 227, we can imagine what this innovation of psychometrics means for statistical centers, personnel selection agencies or even groups dedicated to espionage and social control. All this makes the website created by Mark Zuckerberg look more like a tool for market segmentation than a social network.

In addition, the consequences this may have for the world of advertising and marketing They are obvious. If today it is already possible to roughly estimate the tastes and hobbies of a person from their searches on Google, perhaps in the future a brand of cars can know which model can attract us more due to the fact that one day we did a score of clicks on a social network.

One of the paradoxes of this methodology of psychological evaluation is that we study qualities that make us social and unique beings without the need for social interaction and applying generic rules about human behavior. This perspective can be so attractive to organizations that the University of Cambridge already has an application that allows you to see what your Facebook profile, tweets and other forms of fingerprint say about your psychological profile. One of the supposed advantages that can be read on its website is: "avoid having to ask unnecessary questions". In what ways this methodology will affect the protection of privacy is something that remains to be seen.

Big Data: Facebook and its database

In short, it is now possible that computers are increasingly capable of infer information about us that we have never declared directly, and that this information is of higher quality than that inferred by any person. All this can make it possible, in large part, the Big Data analysis on Facebook : the massive processing of data (personal or otherwise) that we provide of our own free will. The team of researchers talks about this qualitative leap in the conclusions of their article:

Popular culture has come to represent robots that surpass humans when it comes to making psychological inferences. In the movie Her, for example, the protagonist falls in love with his operating system. Through the management and analysis of your fingerprint, your computer can understand and react to your thoughts and needs much better than other humans, including your girlfriend and your closest friends. Our research, together with the advances in robotics, provides empirical evidence that this hypothetical situation is becoming increasingly possible as the tools of digital evaluation mature.

What will computing be capable of when a computer is able to read not only Facebook pages, but also photographs and texts with the same level of accuracy ? Will we be beings without any mystery before the look of processors manufactured in series? If this form of understanding of the human being that machines can reach in the future reflects our essence as unique and sentient beings, it is something worth reflecting on.

Bibliographic references:

  • Youyou W., Kosinski, M. and Stillwell, D. (2015). Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans. PNAS 112 (4), pp. 1036-1040.

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