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January 29, 2015

Watson’s Take on the State of the Union

Chelsea Lang

Every year, as the State of the Union address comes to a close, analysts, political correspondents and politicians alike come forward to offer unique take on the president’s speech. This year, however, one new voice is chiming in: that of IBM’s Watson.

Using a recording of President Obama’s address, MSNBC tapped the IBM Watson User Modeling service (one of IBM’s Watson Developer Cloud services) to take a deeper look at the language, tone, and topics covered to compare its outlook for the US with that delivered in SOTUs past.

After MSNBC had Watson take a look at the 2015 address, they had the User Modeling service then listen to each address from 2001 onward, and had it make comparisons across 52 different parameters that Watson can measure.

Just a few of the parameters included are Love, Practicality, self-consciousness, and even “authority-challenging.” And rather than requiring hours or days to draw its conclusions, Watson can deliver a complete analysis in minutes or even seconds.

And what did Watson find? Essentially, nothing that couldn’t be predicted.

Based on the trends Watson spotted over the 14 most recent State of the Union speeches, this year’s address fell right in line with what would have been expected, but that there are some key differences between the types of speeches President Obama has tended toward when compared to President Bush.

Here's how IBM Watson rated President Obama's State of the Union address, according to MSNBC.

Here’s how IBM Watson rated President Obama’s State of the Union address, according to MSNBC.

MSNBC reported that Openness, one of the first groupings of characteristics that’s based on the Big Five personality inventory that you may have taken in Psych 101, has dropped slightly since Obama has taken office. This category spans everything from adventurousness to emotionality, but a key difference was found in the ‘Artistic interests’ parameter, which scans the speech for keywords such as “dance, jazz, passion, thankful, and worship.”

A common trend across presidencies was a climb in Conscientiousness – the category associated with duty and goal-seeking. Similarly, emotional range started high for both presidents before leveling off in later years.

What varied the most, however, were the presidents’ needs. Depending on current events surrounding each address, the President may have called for greater closeness and harmony or more stability and structure. This year, President Obama called upon the nation to practice harmony, practicality, self-expression and structure, according to Watson’s analysis.

A complete infographic of Watson’s findings for MSNBC can be found on its website. The Watson User Modeling service that was used is available on IBM Bluemix.

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