IBM Watson Thinks I’m Cooler Than I Really Am

And it created this totally accurate portrait of me
IBM watson
IBM Watson is (not) running for president. IBM

What kind of person are you, really? What better way to find out than to ask someone who’s not a person. As part of the NYCxDesign festival, IBM Watson painted me a portrait of who I really am deep down inside … on Twitter.

IBM Watson is a computer program that parses natural language to analyze data. Different versions of Watson have gone on to become a doctor, a college teaching assistant, a world-class chef, as well as a Jeopardy! champion.

Watson can also analyze your personality based on your writings. Here’s how the booth worked:

In the NYCxDesign booth, the program spits out 5 personality traits, and uses them to compose an abstract “portrait” of you. Here’s mine:

“Each portrait is a unique combination (1 in 17 million) of your top 5 personality traits,” the program told me. “Don’t you feel special?”

Hmm, to be honest, not really. When I heard Watson was doing personality tests, I was hoping to fill out some kind of in-depth personality questionnaire. Multiple choice tests are my jams. My No. 2 pencils were ready. Having it all based on Twitter was a little disappointing.

Watson’s Twitter-parsing program has been around for a while, and the online version, which you can try for yourself, is more thorough than the NYCxDesign booth. IBM thinks it can use this information to help marketers learn the best ways to tailor ads to individuals.

The other problem is that who I am on Twitter isn’t exactly who I am in real life, and this is probably true for many people. I’d love it if I were the authority-challenging, imaginative, and adventurous soul that Watson thinks I am, but I’m pretty sure I’m not in real life. My job as a science journalist forces me to be outspoken and cosmopolitan, but IRL I get social anxiety about going to the grocery store.

IBM Watson has 30 descriptors it can assign to people, but some of the most frequent seemed to be Imaginative, Authority-challenging, and Philosophical.

I’d love to see IBM Watson analyze its own Twitter personality. Although a booth attendant told me she didn’t think Watson has a personality, perhaps it would find itself to be Achievement-striving, Orderly, and Intellectual.