A few weeks ago, a group of researchers from Stanford University and the University of New Mexico published the study Disintermediating your friends, which showed that in 2017 around 40 percent of American heterosexual couples met online, with that number jumping to 65 percent with same-sex couples. The news understandably attracted a great deal of attention, now that online dating is officially becoming the most popular way of finding a romantic partner. If dating apps like Tinder, Match, and Bumble digitised the way we connect with and meet potential matches, Denver-based Kevin Teman wants to push online dating to the next level with his startup AIMM.
AIMM stands for artificially intelligent matchmaker and it functions as a 360 degree AI dating coach. The device utilises a female voice with a British accent to collect relevant information and build an in-depth profile of the user, making sure they can find the best long-term partner according to their taste as well as their habits and life goals. The specificity with which AIMM wants to find a perfectly compatible partner compared to Tinder and other popular dating apps shows how AIMM targets singles looking for long-term relationships, rather than casual dates with unpredictable outcomes.
With the help of ‘phone-calls’ with the app’s AI and specific questions, AIMM provides users with customised feedback and advice on how to behave during a first date, what to say, and how to surprise their partner. “Think of AIMM as an advanced classified and robotic assistant designed to introduce you, coach, and boost you into your real life relationship,” reads AIMM’s website, adding, “AIMM asks questions. AIMM walks you through hypothetical situations, housing choices, life preferences and uses a variety of different question styles to get to know you”.
It comes as no surprise that voice technology is being implemented in dating apps, considering that one in five Americans now owns a voice assistant and that voice-based chatbots are increasingly present in our lives, as reported by the MIT Technology Review. What is more groundbreaking is the app’s capacity to gauge a person’s emotional reaction via a video component. As shown in the presentation video of the app, AIMM can ‘read’ a person’s expression after their first date to understand whether it is worth to move on with the match or not. The video component doesn’t come without its own shortcomings on the accuracy of the feature. According to the MIT Technology Review, emotion-reading technology is far from being accurate as emotional nuances require both context and history to be properly interpreted, and machine learning is far from being ready to do so, thus running a high risk of misinterpreting a person’s feelings.
On top of dubious technological features, the app policy doesn’t appear as progressive as its founder wants to portray it, but rather resonates an outdated and somewhat gender-stereotypical tone—AIMM is designed in a way that only allows men to ask women out and exclusively promotes monogamous relationships, even at their early stages. The app intends to create one to one digital encounters, to make sure “they’re not going to disappear from someone else being interested. For men, this is a huge relief, for women, it means peace of mind knowing you can focus on one person at a time,” as its website states. In addition, AIMM seems to be coded to facilitate heterosexual couples, something Teman confirmed by saying, “They said that the questions seemed like they were all for straight people and there were no questions about Pride lifestyle. So I added some things about—if you’re homosexual, it can go into some questions that are specifically about your lifestyle.”
So far, AIMM has not proved itself particularly successful in matching users with their perfect ‘other’, as it only managed to set up a handful of dates (twelve to be exact) since its launch (among which none were successful). Apart from some wannabe-innovative technology features that don’t seem to be 100 percent functional, both the format and the policy of this dating app do not sound particularly cutting edge or progressive. Kevin Teman’s app aim is to go technologically forward while seemingly promoting backward views on romantic relationships, and it will soon offer users the option to be linked to a human matchmaking service, offering person to person sessions, an odd feature for an app whose main focus is based on its AI system. But despite the numerous flaws, it is possible to grasp through AIMM the direction that dating apps might take in the years to come. AIMM is far from being the app that is set to break the boundaries of AI-implementation, but most of the features it presents—once revised and upgraded—will most likely be present in the dating apps we’ll be using in the future.
The first online dating site, Match.com, was launched in 1995, three years before Google. 20 years forward, dating apps have become close to synonymous with our relationships. We agree to give them access to some parts of our lives (to an extent), and they guarantee to provide us with better matches and more interesting dates than the ones we usually get. At the same time, dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, and many others, allow researchers to access more data about our dating lives and ‘mating patterns’ to further their studies on compatibility. Dating apps also reveal the potential of sharing your private information with an algorithm in the name of love—a small price to pay to meet the right person, right?
In a study conducted on 4 million users of an unnamed dating site (sounds like Tinder to me), Elizabeth Bruch and Mark Newman from the University of Michigan found some results that anyone with dating experience would find predictable. For example, reciprocated messages mean that there is a mutual interest between two potential dating partners, and men tend to initiate contact first, which also doesn’t sound surprising.
Then, by coming up with a ‘desirability score’ for each of the participants, Brunch and Newman found some more customary information. An overview of the results showed that, “Older women are less desirable, while older men are more so. The average woman’s desirability drops from the time she is 18 until she is 60. For men, desirability peaks around 50 and then declines.” This comes as no surprise in the dating world.
The final aspect they analysed was people’s education level. For men, a woman with an undergraduate degree was most desirable, whereas for women, further education was always more appealing. Keeping all these results in mind, it makes sense that dating apps and dating websites are under quite a lot of pressure to make sure you are matched with the right person for you.
Even before the Big Data boom—when we are finally able to store large amounts of data automatically—users of online dating sites were required to fill in online questionnaires and profiles. Now, algorithms can collect more data on you than you can imagine (like your location, your bio, your Facebook profile, and images) to easily predict your next match of the day, without you having to answer a set of lengthy questions, or even do anything at all.
By manually filling an online questionnaire about our qualities and flaws, there’s a chance that some of our answers won’t always be completely honest. Algorithms can use our online behaviour to learn the real answers to questions we might lie about otherwise.
When The Guardian’s Judith Duportail asked Tinder for all the information it had collected on her over time, the company sent Duportail a profile report spanning over 800 pages. The report was a sort of tipping point for big data collection and our understanding of it; it revealed how apps can work out our personalities and lifestyles through our social media activity, our likes, our Spotify playlists, and Instagram photos. While many find this type of data mining an invasion of privacy, others look at it as the only real way to find their perfect relationship.
Dating apps promise to connect us with people with compatible traits. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. As machine-learning algorithms become more accurate than ever, dating companies will be able to learn more about who we are and who’s the right fit for us. But there are a few steps still missing in the quest for this.
Apps can track where we’ve been, how long we stayed there, and if we went home with the person we were meeting. Still, few ask users for the outcomes of actual dates. The harvesting of our personal detail goes far beyond what many of us could imagine—Google can track you through your phone, it knows everything you’ve searched, the apps you use, which events you’ve attended, and it even has the information you’ve deleted. So how come, with all this data out there for grabs, dating apps continue to overlook the importance of not only whose profile photos we like but also who we felt chemistry with in person.
It is clear that dating apps have the possibility of changing our dating lives for the better by using even more of our information and data. With ameliorated algorithms, the future of online dating looks bright. But maybe the delay in improvement is not coming from the technology apps are using but from the CEOs themselves—because finding love is big business, and as long as we keep searching for and not finding our perfect match, these founders are only getting richer.