ELEMENTARY MY DEAR

What IBM’s Watson thinks of your favorite authors’ personalities

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Obsession
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IBM’s Watson, the cognitive computing system that beat two smart humans at Jeopardy!, is slowly working its way to wrangling all of the world’s data. It can help figure out proper cancer treatments, answer your questions about Singapore’s tax code, and even tell you where to eat in Austin, Texas.

And now there’s a Watson tool wants to figure you out on a deeper level: It wants to tell you about your personality type.

The Watson Personality Insights service is an API that can be used to determine your personality from the way you write. IBM has a demonstration of its technology, which lets anyone upload any piece of text for analysis. The tool analyzes up to 1,000 words in English or Spanish.

Quartz fed the first pages from a selection of books, including classic works of literature and some more recent books, to see what Watson would make of the authors’ personalities. The results were surprisingly accurate in places:

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick:

You are inner-directed and skeptical.

You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. And you are calm-seeking: you prefer activities that are quiet, calm, and safe.

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

You consider independence to guide a large part of what you do: you like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them. You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done.

Considering Melville’s seminal novel is about joining in on a dangerous sail, the interest in well-being may be a stretch. But setting your own goals and deciding how to best achieve them? That sounds just like someone on a mission to slay the White Whale.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

You are social, unpretentious and unconventional.

You are laid-back: you appreciate a relaxed pace in life. You are confident: you are hard to embarrass and are self-confident most of the time. And you are unconcerned with art: you are less concerned with artistic or creative activities than most people who participated in our surveys.

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

You consider helping others to guide a large part of what you do: you think it is important to take care of the people around you. You are relatively unconcerned with taking pleasure in life: you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment.

The Harry Potter series is definitely unpretentious, as is the woman who wrote it. A desire for well-being would seem to have fueled a success that only came to Rowling after years of struggle.

Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman:

You are generous, social and active.

You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. You are confident: you are hard to embarrass and are self-confident most of the time. And you are self-assured: you tend to feel calm and self-assured.

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. You consider independence to guide a large part of what you do: you like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them.

The beloved American author just had her second novel published, and Watson’s assessment of her personality based on her writing—You feel what others feel—suggests she is someone who’s been made to understand, perhaps from a young age, that you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Speaking of…

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird:

You are social, somewhat verbose and imperturbable.

You are confident: you are hard to embarrass and are self-confident most of the time. You are down-to-earth: you prefer facts over fantasy. And you are outgoing: you make friends easily and feel comfortable around other people.

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

You consider helping others to guide a large part of what you do: you think it is important to take care of the people around you. You are relatively unconcerned with achieving success: you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

Watson doesn’t seem to think the person who wrote this Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel was entirely the same person who wrote Watchman. Watson’s not alone there. Of course, the difference might have something to do with the fact that the 1960 classic was told from the perspective of a precious, 6-year-old girl, for whom the description above is pretty fitting.

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea:

You are generous, confident and expressive.

You are calm under pressure: you handle unexpected events calmly and effectively. You are confident: you are hard to embarrass and are self-confident most of the time. And you are calm-seeking: you prefer activities that are quiet, calm, and safe.

Your choices are driven by a desire for efficiency.

You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider taking pleasure in life to guide a large part of what you do: you are highly motivated to enjoy life to its fullest.

Hemingway’s concise writing definitely speaks to a “desire for efficiency.” His exploits from Pamploma to Cuba suggest he was driven “to enjoy life to its fullest,” at least for a time, if not at the end.

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century:

You are inner-directed and skeptical.

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 empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them.

Your choices are driven by a desire for prestige.

You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider independence to guide a large part of what you do: you like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them.

Piketty is almost certainly skeptical of capitalism’s inability to distribute wealth evenly, and is pretty much challenging authority and traditional values throughout Capital. Watson must be a fan of the Frenchman’s work.

Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan:

You are shrewd, somewhat insensitive and tranquil.

You are proud: you hold yourself in high regard, satisfied with who you are. You are unconcerned with art: you are less concerned with artistic or creative activities than most people who participated in our surveys. And you are unstructured: you do not make a lot of time for organization in your daily life.

Experiences that give a sense of efficiency hold some appeal to you.

You are relatively unconcerned with taking pleasure in life: you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment. You consider achieving success to guide a large part of what you do: you seek out opportunities to improve yourself and demonstrate that you are a capable person.

Watson seems to have mixed feelings about the analyst who more or less predicted the 2008 financial meltdown. Watson calls him “insensitive,” but concedes that he appears to work for a “purpose greater than just personal enjoyment,” which is exactly how you might describe someone who warns of grave dangers—the black swan events—but also offers some advice for coping with them.

E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey:

You are guarded.

You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. And you are organized: you feel a strong need for structure in your life.

Your choices are driven by a desire for self-expression.

You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider independence to guide a large part of what you do: you like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them.

A “strong need for structure” indeed.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in his first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study In Scarlet:

You are inner-directed and restrained.

You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. And you are calm-seeking: you prefer activities that are quiet, calm, and safe.

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

You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider independence to guide a large part of what you do: you like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them.

What does Watson make of the man responsible for the arguably more famous Watson? He seems to have hit the nail on the head, though perhaps he’s just seen Jude Law’s acting.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in its original Middle English:

You are shrewd, skeptical and restrained.

You are adventurous: you are eager to experience new things. You are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes. And you are laid-back: you appreciate a relaxed pace in life.

Experiences that give a sense of sophistication hold some appeal to you.

You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and achieving success. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. And you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

Maybe this is accurate, and maybe not. But let’s give it up to Watson just for being able to get through all that Middle English.

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