• Dr. Timothy Smith

How AI Knows Everything About You


Photo Source: Pixabay

With information now flowing from every search, click, and purchase we make online as well as data pouring out of our smartphones, computerized automobiles, and Wi-Fi enabled appliances, artificial intelligence has more than enough data to get to know everything about us, and it is scary. All of our interactions with the internet and smart devices leave digital trails behind us. Every time a customer purchases groceries at the supermarket and scans their rewards card for their discount, they give the store a pile of useful information such what items you bought—fruits and vegetables or sugar soda, chips, and ice cream. Moreover, the store knows how often and at what time of day you made your purchases and whether you used cash, credit, or debit. The information collected builds a profile of you that serves to customize the coupons offered to you, but it also gets used to predict what you will purchase and what type of life you live. Such information and analysis may seem at first beneficial, but it can reveal private things about you to total strangers that you may not want to be known.

According to a research article titled “Ignore your partners' current Facebook friends; Beware the ones they add!” published in Computers in Human Behavior, the authors from Indiana University-Perdue University Fort Wayne and Hope College demonstrate how they can predict whether a relationship is in trouble based on the friends a partner adds. If one of the partners adds a friend that could potentially be a romantic partner, it's a sign that the relationship is in trouble. Such an observation may seem obvious, but real data supports the assertion that requesting new potentially romantic friends on social media during a relationship does signal trouble ahead. Such information and additional data such as the content of posts and the connectedness of friends gives enough information to predict whether a relationship will survive. In “Facebook Algorithm Predicts If Your Relationship Will Fail” published by discovermagazine.com, the author summarizes research done by studying 1.3 million people on Facebook to predict the likely failure of their relationships. The research looked at individuals with three attributes: 1) over twenty years old, 2) in a committed relationship: and 3) having fifty or more friends on Facebook. By studying the connectedness of each partner’s networks, Facebook could predict with sixty percent accuracy whether a relationship would survive. The research found that couples with stable relationships have friend networks that follow a particular pattern known as a dispersed network. In a dispersed network, one partner’s best friends have connections to the other partner and vice versa, but the best friends do not share connections among themselves. For example, in a thriving relationship, a husband will share links with his wife’s best friends, but they do not share connections his best friends. Using data, Facebook with the help of artificial intelligence gets to know people very intimately and even has a pretty good estimation of whether their relationships will survive.

Digital trails left by our online activity, purchases, and more contribute information about each of us that can form the basis of a detailed profile of our lives. Artificial intelligence helps make sense of all that information, but we should be careful to follow how that information gets used. Facebook may use its perception of a relationship status to guide certain advertisers to a person’s Facebook page. However, all that information about what you purchase, where you travel, and what you eat has caught the interest of health insurance companies. In a July 18, 2018 article published by npr.ogr, titled “Health Insurers Are Vacuuming Up Details About You — And It Could Raise Your Rates,” Marshall Allan writes companies are “collecting what you post on social media, whether you're behind on your bills, what you order online. Then they feed this information into complicated computer algorithms that spit out predictions about how much your health care could cost them.” The information you leave online coupled with eating habits and the size clothing you purchase may indicate certain health conditions without having to describe your state of health explicitly, and algorithms can use such information to guide individual insurance pricing. The proliferation of computers, smartphones, and many other computer-based devices make the capture and sharing of many bits of information about how people live, and this information with the help of artificial intelligence provides companies and institutions unprecedented views into our private lives.

Dr. Timothy Smith

Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.

You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback and in kindle format here.

How to Profit and Protect Yourself from Artificial Intelligence