Commentary

Watson Says I'm 'Shrewd, Somewhat Critical And Very Particular'

The following post was previously published in an earlier edition of AI Insider:

If you believe the world’s foremost (publicly available) artificial intelligence, I am much more intellectually curious, emotionally aware, sensitive to beauty and willing to try new things than just about all of you.

Apparently, I’m also a bit of a boorish jerk: I value my own interests over yours, I’m extremely skeptical of your motives, I don’t try to help others, and I take virtually no pleasure in life.

The back story is, I heard IBM’s Jon Iwata, senior vice president, marketing and communications, give a talk about Watson last month when he mentioned that Watson’s “Personality Insights” function is being used by some marketers to go way beyond mere demographic segmentation. Instead, it analyzes an individual’s writings (emails, tweets or, in my case, MediaPost columns) and builds a psychographic profile to help marketers create content designed to resonate emotionally with that one person.

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And the kicker? It’s open to anyone on the Web. You just cut and paste someone’s writing into the box offered on the site, and Watson spits out a portrait of that person’s personality.

I input five of my AI Insider columns. The total of 4,181 words yielded what Watson considered a “Strong Analysis” (each column separately resulted in “weak” analyses).

“Oh man, they nailed you!” my wife chuckled when I asked her to review the result.

Here’s Watson’s summary:
-- You are shrewd, somewhat critical and particular.
-- You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes. And you are solemn: you are generally serious and do not joke much.
-- Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery.
-- You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and taking pleasure in life. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. -- And you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment.

So, Watson thinks he’s so smart, eh? How come he doesn’t get my jokes?

Seriously though, I was kind of horrified that Watson says 90% of people are more agreeable than I am, i.e., that they “value getting along with others” and “have a more optimistic view of human nature.” And 77% of people care more than I do about “the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent contact.” And I love life, honest! What’s that about?

However, I was kind of delighted to be painted as so relentlessly curious; I’ve got a client for which that’s a stated value. I’m off the chart on “openness” more open to trying new things than 98% of you. But would you really call me “authority-challenging” just because I was fired three times from senior vice president positions and took a vow 10 years ago never to return to a corporate role? What can it be about the tone of these columns that hinted at that?

Some parts were eerie. At first, I shouted “Gotchya!” when I saw Watson insist that I have experience playing music and I like historical movies. No way! Never played an instrument in my life, and never watch the History Channel. But then, I realized, I did spend about eight years as the “Suzuki parent” when our triplets were young budding violinists; that taught me to hear music in an entirely different, deeper way, so I could teach it to them.

And while I don’t recall ever seeing a particularly historical movie (unless you count the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), I am a downright fanatic when it comes to the nine-novel “Outlander” series (now a Starz series). How can anyone resist Diana Gabaldon’s naturalist concoction of genetically linked time travelers (it’s set mostly in the 1700s, as well as the 1900s, simultaneously), war-torn adventure, and sex, all told with a strikingly authentic humanism that touches your soul and drives you to laughter and tears, often at the same time?

There’s a lot more detail, but these are the highlights. Lest anyone accuse me of being a Watson cheerleader, I also tried out the similar tool at Receptiviti (which accepts only up to 500 words) and took Cambridge Analytica’s “OCEAN” personality test. The results were strikingly similar, though Receptiviti’s was more limited. Cambridge Analytica granted that I might be about average in agreeableness, instead of in the bottom 10% — but still insisted that I am generally “unwilling to put [myself] out for strangers.” (The next stranded motorist I come across is in for a surprise!)

The only thing I can say in my defense is that I deliberately write these columns to be as provocative as possible; I tend to take extremely strident positions. It’s not that I don’t authentically believe everything I’ve written here. Rather, it’s that I say it a lot more vehemently than I would in collegial conversation. I’m trying to get a rise out of you all because I fear you’re far too complacent about how fast and furiously the AIs are coming and how much tumult they will cause. So, maybe — just maybe — I’m not quite as much of a you-know-what kind-of-hole as Watson’s analysis of my columns makes me out.

But beware! The AIs are coming! The AIs are coming! And, if you believe my wife of 35 years, they are damn smart.

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