Hacking Romance

Think about it. Would you allow a computer geek you don’t even know to arrange a blind date for you? Probably not. But that’s exactly what you do when you use online dating sites. These sites use mathematics (algorithms) to recommend partners for you. Romance, in their view, is logical. Most dating sites using algorithms to match people are of the opinion that people may only think they know the type of person they want in a partner. Emotions and biological attraction cannot really be trusted. Algorithms know what’s good for you more than even you know what’s good for you.

This may sound like pure nonsense, but before you shrug this off completely, it may be a good idea to look at the evidence on the other side. One study found that, in fact, computers could judge personalities better than humans by simply analyzing their digital footprints. “Our findings highlight that people’s personalities can be predicted automatically and without involving human social-cognitive skills.” In this study, computers were able to identify 5 traits in individuals better than their family and friends, based solely on Facebook likes. These 5 traits were openness, aggressiveness, extroversion, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. The study claims that with more input, they would know the person better than the person’s spouse. So are we controlling computers or are computers controlling us?

likes graph

In other words, an algorithm could, indeed, suggest someone as a partner who would be more compatible than their current spouse. The study reaches the following conclusion.

“Popular culture has depicted robots that surpass humans in making psychological inferences. In the film Her, for example, the main character falls in love with his operating system. By curating and analyzing his digital records, his computer can understand and respond to his thoughts and needs much better than other humans, including his long-term girlfriend and closest friends. Our research, along with development in robotics, provides empirical evidence that such a scenario is becoming increasingly likely as tools for digital assessment come to maturity.”

The problem is that these dating site algorithms tend to be too general. They may give partner seekers potential matches that are more or less correct but are missing that crucial X factor. This X factor varies with each individual and it may be something beyond each person’s own conscious awareness. Imagine the situation in which, given enough data, an algorithm could uncover this X factor. Imagine how effective it would be in arranging successful matches.

Journalist Amy Webb made an attempt to get a dating site’s algorithm to do just that. After numerous failed dates and relationships, she made a list of 72 characteristics she needed in a man. She then broke this into the following list of first tier and second tier priorities.


That seems logical enough. She then used the dating site’s massive database to find men who matched her criteria. Unfortunately, those men she found didn’t necessarily have to be interested in her. Men are visually oriented. They may find a woman to be compatible on many intellectual fronts, but they may not be interested in having a romantic relationship with her. Anyway, this is precisely what Webb found.

Taking into account the visual element, Webb then studied the profiles of the most popular women on the site and updated her own profile to align with their presentation style. Certain descriptors seemed more alluring to men than others (fun, girl, love). And, men, being men, liked women who took the time to make themselves look attractive and showed some skin. When she upgraded her profile to match these guidelines, she became enormously popular. Eventually, she found someone who reached a high enough score on her point system. They dated and eventually married. So, yes, dating site algorithms can be gamed.

There is, however, a down side to upgrading dating. You may end up with too many potential partners. Self-described “fat, bald, short guy”, Sebastian Stadil, designed an app to help him find dating partners. Using it, he ended up going on more than a date a day. Sadly, all these dates failed and he couldn’t really figure out why. But it became even worse. “Having more matches increased my odds of finding someone interesting, but it also became an addiction. The possibility of meeting that many people made me want to meet every one of them, to make sure I wouldn’t miss the One.” Others, using similar techniques, learned that they were being too picky. This all goes to support the premise that no one is perfect.

Actually, it’s possible that only robots can be perfect, at least, 27% of Milennials say they would try dating one. Three times as many men are amenable to the idea.


Sophia: The Most Human-like Robot (see her interviewed below)

But, then again, men populate dating sites to a higher degree than women. Although the common division is listed at 60% men to 40% women, dating sites have been known to pad their sites with false female profiles to attract men to their sites.

From all the information given above, it really does seem that men and women are living in different worlds. Studies show that men seem quite happy to give up emotional attachment and communication for physical attractiveness. The statistics further seem to indicate that they are searching for low maintenance women who require little or, in the case of robots, no attention. But keep this sobering statistic in mind. One-third of men on dating sites never go on a single date. The algorithms just aren’t working for them. The statistics also give women more freedom to be picky. In other words, they get offered more choices and may end up with an unrealistic view of their own value, making them picky to the point of not finding a partner.

Dating site algorithms may be failing on many counts, but these sites do hold a huge database of individuals looking for partners. Accessing and manipulating these databases may be the key to finding the soulmate of your dreams. My guess is that anyone who designs an algorithm to do this will be very popular and, quite likely, very rich.




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