Mindclones from Social Media: New Research from Stanford Suggests Feasibility

In an episode of the popular dark sci-fi show ‘Black Mirror‘, realistic digital personalities of the dead are recreated from data alone. London-based firm “Lean Mean Fighting Machine” has developed an artificial intelligence system that can analyse a person’s Twitter feed, and then impersonate them after death. But just how realistic is this idea?


One of the more controversial ideas of transhumanism is the notion of mind uploading where the essence of a person, their mind, would be transferred to a computer. A related but less ambitious project is constructing a simulated “second self” or mindclone to continue your personality, work and relationships after death. Or perhaps just to help you be more efficient while still alive.
Companies such as eterni.me, Gordon Bell’s MyLifeBits, and Terasem’s Lifenaut are pursuing this goal.


Computer industry pioneer and extreme  ‘life logger’ Gordon Bell, is the creator of MyLifeBits, a research project which is developing a ‘chatbot’ using IBM’s Cognea software with the aim of recreating dead people in part.
Eterni.me is a proposed for profit service that will offer immortality by creating “a virtual YOU, an avatar that emulates your personality and can interact with, and offer information and advice to your family and friends, even after you pass away.”


The Terasem Lifenaut program is pioneering the technology required to preserve both a person’s biological information and cognitive information or “mind file”.
The notion that a person’s online utterances, social media postings, emails and so forth, might be “enough” to generate a reasonable facsimile or mindclone that could carry on a convincing conversation is perhaps even more controversial. Certainly the performance of current chatbots such as Eugene Goostman claimed to have “passed” the Turing Test is not very impressive. But newly published research from Stanford University shows that the idea might not be that far fetched.


Transhumanist pioneer Martine Rothblatt covers this in her book, Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality, suggesting that mindclones might use some sort of advanced digital personality profile to classify and emulate different people’s personalities. Rothblatt’s research has famously led to the creaton of Bina 48, a robotic head that houses a mindclone of Rothblatt’s real and still living wife Bina.Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 1.54.52 PMBut Rothblatt’s book doesn’t suggest a way to build this personality model and some have been skeptical about how it would be done.

This new study, published Jan. 12 and conducted jointly by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Cambridge, compares the ability of computers and humans to make accurate judgments about personalities. People’s judgments are on their familiarity with the judged individual, while the computer uses digital signals derived from Facebook “likes.”
The researchers were Michal Kosinski, co-lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Department of Computer Science; Wu Youyou, co-lead author and a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge; and David Stillwell, a researcher at the University of Cambridge. By mining a person’s Facebook “likes,” a computer program was able to predict a person’s personality more accurately than most of their friends and family. Only a person’s spouse came close to matching the machine’s performance.
The software’s predictions were based on which articles, videos, artists and other items the person had liked on Facebook and predictions matched the subject’s own scores on the five basic personality dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
Kosinski, a computational social scientist, pointed out that “the findings also suggest that in the future, computers could be able to infer our psychological traits and react accordingly, leading to the emergence of emotionally intelligent and socially skilled machines.”
“In this context,” he added, “the human-computer interactions depicted in science fiction films such as Her seem not to be beyond our reach.”
He also said the research advances previous work from the University of Cambridge in 2013 that showed that a variety of psychological and demographic characteristics could be “predicted with startling accuracy” through Facebook likes.
In the study, personality self-ratings of 86,220 volunteers were collected using a standard, 100-item long personality questionnaire. Human judges, including Facebook friends and family members, expressed their judgment of a subject’s personality using a 10-item questionnaire. The results showed that a computer could more accurately predict the subject’s personality than a work colleague by analyzing just 10 likes; more than a friend or a roommate with 70; a family member with 150; and a spouse with 300 likes.


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