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Reading an Author’s Personality

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:28 PM

For about 20 years I edited those much-missed Update journals from Xephon. From December 1986, when the very first CICS Update was published, to November 2007, when the last ones went to print, I worked as an editor. You may remember MVS Update, DB2 Update, CICS Update and a host of others over the years. And, as an editor, you get to recognize the style of some of your regular contributors. In many ways, you feel you get to know what they are like as people. But now, IBM Watson is able to determine any author’s personality type.

The Watson Personality Insights service is an API that can be used to determine anyone’s personality from the way they write. Up to 1,000 words in any piece of text can be uploaded and Watson will produce a personality profile of the writer. The IBM Watson Developer Cloud suggests “The IBM Watson Personality Insights service uses linguistic analytics to infer cognitive and social characteristics, including Big Five, Values, and Needs, from communications that the user makes available, such as email, text messages, tweets, forum posts, and more. By deriving cognitive and social preferences, the service helps users to understand, connect to, and communicate with other people on a more personalized level.”

I put my last Destination z blog post in to be analysed. Here’s what it said:

“You are inner-directed, skeptical and can be perceived as insensitive.

You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. And you are unconcerned with art: you are less concerned with artistic or creative activities than most people who participated in our surveys.

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

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


The Big Five personality traits are used to describe all of human personality. The factors are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Now the question that probably springs to mind is this: Are there really only five factors? Might there be a sixth (or seventh, etc.)? Might there be spiritualness or sexiness or whatever? You might also wonder whether knowing what someone’s personality is has any benefit in predicting how they are likely to behave in a given situation. Let’s suppose I want someone to go and negotiate strongly with a group of people, what personality type would I choose? And, having chosen that person, can I guarantee that they will always behave in the same way. What about when they’ve had some sleepless nights? What about when their partner has just left them? You might argue that those are extremes, but then where and how do you draw the line about behavior?

There is an argument that personality cannot predict behavior on any individual occasion, but it can predict in general how a person will behave. So, it cannot predict how well you will do your job tomorrow but it can predict, on the whole, how well you’ll do your job over a longer period of time.

I thought I would test Watson with a different blog to see whether my personality changes when I write on different topics. I chose (at random) a blog on artificial intelligence. So, what sort of a person am I now?

“You are shrewd and somewhat insensitive.

You are unstructured: you do not make a lot of time for organization in your daily life. You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. And you are self-assured: you tend to feel calm and self-assured.

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

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.”

From those two, I can conclude that I am insensitive, open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. And experiences that give a sense of efficiency hold some appeal to me. I’m still not sure that I recognize myself. And I’m still not sure it’s any more useful than a horoscope saying that:

  • You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
  • You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
  • You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.
  • While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.
  • Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you.
  • Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
  • At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.
  • You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.
  • You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof.
  • You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.
  • At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.
  • Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic.
  • Security is one of your major goals in life.
Does that sound like you? In 1948, psychologist Bertram R. Forer gave his psychology students a personality test, giving them all the list above as their specific personality. They then rated their personality profile on a scale of 0 (rubbish) to 5 (excellent). On average, their rating was 4.26.

Maybe we don’t even know ourselves well enough to know whether a personality test is correct. Anyway, if you want to have a go and see what your personality is, it’s available at the IBM Watson Personality Insights page.

Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd, an IT consultancy. A popular speaker and blogger, he currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups. He’s editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, and has been an IBM Champion every year since 2009.