Love in a Time of Big Data

Updated: Mar 23



If it were up to an algorithm, I’m sure I would have never met my husband. I missed (escaped!) the whole online dating and dating app scene. I’ve never had an online dating profile though some guy on a bus once led with “I saw you on Plenty of Fish” as his intro. It took me a while to figure out what he was saying (Fish? Fishing?...oh….).


In this time of big data, what does it mean to let an algorithm find your perfect match? In some ways, it’s not unlike other recommendation systems such as Netflix which are also trying to make a match on your behalf. The algorithms work in very similar ways, as Wired reporter Arielle Pardes explains:


Dating apps like Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble use "collaborative filtering," which generates recommendations based on majority opinion. It's similar to the way Netflix recommends what to watch: partly based on your personal preferences, and partly based on what's popular with a wide user base.” (Wired)

Race and romance


Like many other filtering systems, researchers have found that these dating app algorithms can be biased and discriminatory. In their paper “Debiasing Desire: Addressing Bias & Discrimination on Intimate Platforms”, a group of researchers found that platform design privledged certain people (typically hetro and white) over other people. Collaborative filtering as a design choice was leading to discriminatory outcomes for some groups of people. For example, Asian men are often stereo-typed and excluded as a result of biases found in these systems. Netflix managed to turn this idea of Asian-male dating discrimination into a romantic comedy. But, in real life, it’s not at all funny. It can be psychologically damaging to face that type of rejection before you’re even given a chance.


When bot meets bot


So, what does the future of algorithmic dating look like? It may need to be a lot more personalized than a typical recommender system. Perhaps, it won’t involve the real you at all. In the Black Mirror episode Hang the DJ, an AI dating coach pairs up people’s virtual bots to conduct a whole bunch of experiments and then uses the results to fine tune and filter for actual preferences. I could see these bots using reinforcement learning - taking a trial and error approach which mirrors dating in the real world. One might imagine these bots running tens of thousands of dating experiments all processed instantaneously through powerful machine learning algorithms in order to turn up a highly probabilistic compatibility match. This happens before any humans are involved. Why waste YOUR time going on a bunch of dates when this would be so much more efficient.


Less tolerance or greater eHarmony


It doesn’t take much to imagine how off-loading the dating process could lead to humans becoming a lot less tolerant of other people, a lot more awkward in social situations and much more transactional in our relationships overall. Maybe we are already heading in this direction. On the other hand, would more highly compatible matches result in less divorce, less unhappiness and greater (e)harmony? It’s hard to know how the impacts will be experienced in the long term, but one thing we do know is that big data and algorithms are already entangled in modern romance.


By Katrina Ingram, CEO, Ethically Aligned AI _______


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