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Robert Epstein is Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology (AIBRT) and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today magazine.
Epstein has published 15 books on artificial intelligence, creativity, stress management, and other topics, as well as more than 250 scientific and popular articles. In 2015 he wrote a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) called The Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME) and Its “Possible Impact on the Outcomes of Elections” which has since been downloaded from the PNAS website over 100,000 times.
SEME is one of the largest behavioural effects ever discovered, and it is nearly invisible as a source of influence, which makes it especially dangerous. Epstein’s research suggests that SEME is currently determining the outcomes of upwards of 25 percent of the world’s national elections. Epstein has also shown that SEME has the power to affect a wide range of attitudes, opinions, beliefs and behaviour, not just voting preferences.
Robert Epstein has also tested an operant conditioning theory of SEME, which suggests that routine daily searches condition people to believe that higher-ranked search items are inherently truer than lower-ranked items. The more people come to believe this, the easier it is to shift their thinking on issues on which they are undecided. In 2016, Epstein discovered that search suggestions can also be used to shift opinions and voting preferences, a phenomenon he calls the Search Suggestion Effect (SSE).
Epstein is also the founder and director emeritus of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, as well as the founding director of the Loebner Prize Competition in Artificial Intelligence, an annual Turing Test that has been conducted since 1990 and that is currently held each year.