Have you heard of the IBM Watson super-computer?

It first came to fame in 2011 on the TV quiz show, Jeopardy, when it beat out two top players and won a $1 million prize.

Watson’s ability to analyze language and data and spit out results is remarkable. It puts together more than 100 computing techniques and can process the equivalent of a million books per second.

Since its quiz show debut, Watson technology has been put to work in many ways. For instance, some hospitals are using Watson to help suggest treatment options to doctors. It’s used by an online music service to recommend music choices. It powers an app that helps energy companies comply with complex environmental regulations.

And Now, IBM’s Watson Can Analyze Your Personality

What! How?

Simple: you submit something you’ve written to Watson’s easy-to-use “Personality Insights” tool.

What kind of writing is important, as it shouldn’t be merely dry, factual text. IBM describes the ideal writing as, “self-reflective, such as words about work, family, friends, health, money, feelings, achievement, and positive and negative emotions.” And while there is a minimum of 100 words, the longer the text, the more accurate the analysis will be.

You can test out the tool on this page below or visit the IBM site.

So, for example, I pasted in a 3,200 word article I wrote a few years ago about the relationship between dogs and people, inspired by the death of our beloved family dog.

Based on this personal writing, here is how Watson analyzed my personality:

You are heartfelt.

You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. You prefer activities that are quiet, calm, and safe. And you are confident: you are hard to embarrass and are self-confident most of the time.

You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of well-being.

You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done.

Next, I submitted an excerpt for analysis from A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. It’s one of my favorite, funny books and has just been made into a movie. Here’s what Watson thought:

You are laid-back: you appreciate a relaxed pace in life. You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. And you are intermittent: you have a hard time sticking with difficult tasks for a long period of time.

Your choices are driven by a desire for well-being.

You are relatively unconcerned with achieving success: you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

How Does Watson Generate “Personality Insights”?

Here are some key points from the background information IBM provides:

  • A well-accepted theory is that human language reflects personality, thinking style, social connections, and emotional states.
  • The frequency with which we use certain categories of words can provide clues to personality, thinking style, social connections, and emotional stress.
  • The tool uses a specialized dictionary that defines 68 categories, each of which contain up to hundreds of words; categories include words that represent positive emotions, social words, work-related words, and so on.
  • As it categorizes word usage, Watson connects that to personality models. These are:
    • The Big Five: This is the most widely used personality model to describe how a person engages with the world. The Big Five are often referred to by the mnemonic OCEAN, where O stands for Openness, C for Conscientiousness, E for Extraversion, A for Agreeableness, and N for Neuroticism (which is also referred to as Emotional Range).
    • Needs and Values: The tool uses 12 common needs and five basic human values as part of its computation.

Using this technological “recipe,” if you feed your personal writing or your child’s essays into Watson, it digests quickly and provides feedback. Try it!

There’s More than Fun and Games at Stake for IBM

IBM has a variety of plans for how people and companies can use the Watson functionality. For instance, a company can look at all the blog posts and twitter feeds, etc. that are being said about it online and derive a profile of what people think about their company: in other words, a collective “personality.” A government can have Watson look at vast volumes of online postings and have the computer identify those with potentially terrorist leanings.

But the point is, you can try out this super-powerful, artificial intelligence service for free and gain some intriguing insights into yourself and your children. Results can be a bit inconsistent depending on the writing sample, but this tool may help you find out what makes your child tick just by examining his or her writing.

Try it out here by pasting in any writing sample (scroll down to see your analysis):

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