Like a child learning about its parents, artificial intelligence has begun to study the human condition.
An A.I. system created by the Boulder, Colorado-based company CaliberMind can form analytical judgments about how people think and communicate, with a text input of only 100 words. CaliberMind’s software can rank someone on a spectrum of emotional versus analytical decision-making, then draw conclusions about their character traits. How ambitious are they? How self-conscious, humble, or neurotic? Culling these details into a snapshot of someone’s personality, the software then makes recommendations on how to best communicate with that person. It’s nothing less than an artificially intelligent effort to peer into a person’s heart and mind.
CaliberMind was co-founded by Raviv Turner, a former Israeli intelligence officer of 15 years who spent significant time “applying quantitative and qualitative analysis to crack open how people think,” he says. His work is made possible through the study of psychographics, which seeks to classify people by their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological traits.
Psychographics is related to demographics in that both reveal insights about a person, but they do so in different ways. Where demographic information is largely concerned with factual data points, psychographics seeks to get at a person’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations. The former answers “Who?” The latter answers “Why?” Both fields are, of course, highly important to marketers who want to know who to target and how.
In the case of CaliberMind, these A.I.-enabled peeks into our personalities are done to facilitate business deals. Turner says large enterprise deals can often take “three months to three years” to close, and easily involve “five to fifteen people” in the process. CaliberMind presents itself as a secret weapon to help negotiators match someone’s preferred communication style while simultaneously advancing their own agendas.
If you’re not in business or sales, you may simply benefit from a glimpse into how your friends and family operate. A savvy communicator will seek to understand each person’s motivations and communication styles, and meet that person on their own level. This might be accomplished by studying months and months of tweets, or closely considering someone’s word choice in their emails, but CaliberMind automates that process. Point the software at a Twitter account or block of text someone has generated, and it paints a picture of what that person wants to hear.
Turner ran some noted businesspeople and celebrities through his software for us.
“Likely a workaholic with a very intense drive to succeed.”
“Has an intuitive sense of persuasion and is able to create rapport with others by sensing what it is they might want.”
“Likely has good social skills and typically gets along well with others.”
“He may get impatient if you move too slowly. Give him some time to talk — he’ll tell you what he’s thinking. He’ll probably want to lead the conversation.”
Taylor Swift famously withheld her album 1989 from Apple Music and all streaming services. She wrote a letter to Apple in June 2015 explaining her decision, and what luck — it’s long enough for CaliberMind to determine the following about the pop star:
“Has a strong need to exert power and influence, and may sometimes be domineering and overly assertive.”
“Likes to be consulted about decisions, even when those decisions are of little importance.”
“Likely a relatively grounded person who values friendships, works hard, and has healthy life goals.”
“Do your best to avoid changing plans and making promises you can’t keep [with this person]. Be friendly and follow their lead in social interactions.”
CaliberMind is using the science of the Big Five personality traits to form these conclusions about its subjects. Commonly abbreviated as OCEAN (that’s Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism), these fundamental characteristics are derived from “the lexical hypothesis,” which suggests that the language we use illuminates the less-obvious components of our personalities. “We haven’t invented the science of personality assessment framework, of course,” Turner says. “We’re just harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and natural language processing to harvest sales emails, sales calls, support tickets, social profiles, and the like, then applying the OCEAN traits against them.”
We couldn’t resist asking Turner to feed Trump’s Twitter account into CaliberMind to see what came back. Those results: “Likely values getting along well with others and is generally well-liked[…] Tends to think in a structured and logical manner, and typically approaches problems by analyzing them from multiple perspectives[…] Relaxed, takes problems as they come, typically slow to anger.” The software identifies agreeableness, generosity, empathy, and humbleness as the most dominant character traits expressed via the new president’s social media presence.
For those thinking this is a less-than-accurate picture of the new American president, it illustrates one of the issues yet to be solved before A.I. can truly understand people: we don’t always say what we mean. Just consider how we say “I’m fine” when things are actually terrible.
“One last hurdle in A.I. is cynicism and sarcasm,” Turner says. “Telling a computer everything is fine means everything is fine. We are still at a point where A.I. is only as good as the humans that train it, and the data that humans feed to the algorithm. It’s not consciousness.” The era of Her-level A.I. remains far off.
Turner readily acknowledges that “machines will not be able to replace salespeople anytime soon,” but they will instead “amplify and orchestrate really complex decisions, assisting the people who operate on the human level.”
Before A.I. can take over the world, it’s going to help humans make their interactions more human.