The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) has been around for seventy years. It is one of the best studied psychometric tests and is still frequently used in forensic settings. The intriguing thing about the MMPI is that it is atheoretical, it is simply an extended battery of questions, the answers to which provide windows into one’s personality.
What does this mean? We live in an age of self-report questionnaires and checklists. They generally have questions that are obvious in what they’re looking for: Are you sad? Do you cry? Do you feel blue? Aha, you must be depressed.
The MMPI might find out the same information differently: Do you play with dolls? Do you ever break things? The question asked and the answer have no logical relationship to the thing being measured, they have simply shown correlation over vast numbers of people taking the test.
In today’s New York Times, there is a fascinating article that brings to mind a similar exercise only with Google searches. This would seem to me to be the next step in Big Data/government oversight/technoparanoia. In Captain America 2 or Freakonomics, there are logic-based algorithms described to find “bad” people. Realistically, it won’t be too long before arrest records and google searches start to predict things about ourselves we won’t logically be able to guess.
It won’t be “flying lessons” “bomb-making” “Allah” that will trigger some terrorism alert, it will be something as banal as “Adidas shoes” “pineapples” and “Sea Monkeys.” Self-censorship will be useless, which the MMPI solves for as well. Search terms will be transparent to so-called “fake-bad” and “fake-good” subscales–the falsely-rebellious and the guiltily-hidden.
The problem with all of this is that it will be utterly without narrative. There will be no explanation, just a prediction that will be inexplicable other than “the computer said so.” Welcome to Minority Report.