Darn! I'm Just an Internet Hoax!



"Robert Roy Britt is an Internet Hoax."

That's what I learned from Personas, a new web ap from MIT that searches the Internet for references to you and then spits out a bunch of words that, supposedly, tell you how the Web sees you.

Personas flashed a bunch of stuff on the screen faster than I could read it, then displayed a bunch of colors on a bar that, I think, represent the percentage of associations I have with various things.

In terms of reflecting the real me, Personas was way, way off. I assume the algorithm found science news articles I've written, thus associating me with "aggression" (actually I'm a pretty passive guy, never been in a fistfight and I haven't yet stopped beating my wife a long time ago), "travel" (I wish!), "art" (I can't draw for beans). Interestingly, no mention of "science" or "space," which have defined my career the past two decades.

Personas did figure out my title and what company I work for. It bests Google on that point.

To test Personas' memory and consistency, I ran my name through it again. Seems all my "aggression" disappeared, replaced by some "education" and a bunch of "music." I do have a college degree, but I can't carry a tune nor play anything aside from about four chords on guitar that my 8-year-old taught me.

Oh, and I hope Personas is wrong about me being a hoax. I'd like to think I'm real. Then again, maybe I am not the one writing this and you've all been duped. If so, joke's ultimately on me ...

Yes, yes, you must try it out anyway, despite its lack of technological prowess. It's here.

(Tip of the hat to New Scientist's Peter Aldhous, who had the same issues with Personas that I did, but he found them first. Aldhous explains a little more about how Personas works, or doesn't.)

In The Water Cooler, Imaginova's Editorial Director Robert Roy Britt looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond. Find more in the archives and on Twitter.

Robert Roy Britt

Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as Space.com and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium, covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.