Will AI Change Dating As We Know It?
‘Ahh that’s where I left my loofah!’ replied a potential Hinge match to a photo of me in a pastel tulle dress. I laughed aloud. A witty and original introduction, I conceded – teasing but not mean.
Alas, on ‘the apps’, such originality is rare. Most openers are painfully prosaic, with, ‘How’s your week going?’ flooding into inboxes at an alarming rate. But can we decry netizens’ lazy preamble, given the laborious nature of the app carousel? Enter the AI dating chatbot. When ChatGPT launched in late 2022, among those taking advantage of its time-saving potential were jaded online daters. AI was already responsible for dating apps’ algorithms, but chatbots boasted the ability to craft articulate, personally tailored messages in seconds.
Riding ChatGPT’s lucrative coattails, tech titans began developing dating apps with built-in chatbots. One such app is Mila, the central tenet of which is ‘flirt better, date more’. After downloading the app, you have a voice ‘conversation’ with an AI dating chatbot named Mila, designed to assess your personality and tailor your matches accordingly. Later, Mila can be summoned to help you come up with ‘a bouquet of charming texts’ – think an enthusiastic, emoji-heavy ChatGPT – sans the time and effort usually required of the initial chatting stage. Mila founder Daniel Liss designed the app to redress the “mobile dating apocalypse”. “Dating apps today gatekeep the best people and use your info to make sure you keep swiping,” he tells me. “We’re changing that.”
Although some might bristle at the notion of chatting with a robot, the appeal is warranted. “Dating in the internet age is exhausting,” observes technology and relationships researcher Michelle Drouin. AI chatbots have the potential to minimise the effort required of the process while serving as an emotional buffer (it’s difficult to get emotionally invested in someone you’re not actually conversing with).
Dr Ryan Kelly, a senior research fellow in human-computer interaction at the University of Melbourne, Australia, points out that chatbots could also aid those struggling with digital communication due to a disability or language barrier, or those merely lacking the e-charisma required to secure a date. The latter falls under Mila’s purview. “The AI is trained to provide fun, whimsical responses that serve as countless ice-breakers two people can use to continue the conversation once they match,” says Liss.
The chatbots also harbour promising ethical potential: Douglas Zytko, associate professor in the College of Innovation & Technology at University of Michigan, US, has spent the past few years conducting research into how AI can facilitate conversations surrounding sexual consent. “I foresee chatbots being used to proactively guide conversation towards transparent discussion of sexual expectations and other topics crucial to an informed consent decision,” he tells me.
But there’s also the argument that using a chatbot is just Facetune for our personalities – arriving at a date and finding your partner’s persona unrecognisable could make for a pretty strained experience. Moreover, according to Drouin, sensing that you’ve been deceived online, concerning either looks or speaking style, can substantially shorten a relationship. Kelly echoes this concern: his study revealed that discovering a match has employed AI in their profile can negatively impact trust. “The level of suspicion on platforms where people are already sometimes a little bit guarded and defensive will go up,” he predicts. The ease with which people can generate fake profiles, which can be used for catfishing, scamming and other unsavoury schemes, also poses a substantial risk.
For now, however, most chatbots are trite; they lack character and are often devoid of culture-specific slang and internet parlance. Kelly instantly recognises ChatGPT’s (digital) timbre when his students use it. “It’s like having soup with no seasoning. It’s well written, but it’s very bland,” he explains. Drouin worries that such inauthentic dialogue could sound the death knell for a budding romance: “If you’re sacrificing engagement for the convenience of an app, you might be sacrificing the potential of a future relationship.”
Droin therefore anticipates an eventual mass backlash against the technology. “No one uses Betty Crocker cake mix anymore. I think that’s going to be something we see in dating: people are going to get tired of these box solutions; they’re going to want the homemade cake,” she forecasts.
5 Dating App Opening Lines, Recommended By AI
- “I couldn’t help but notice your smile in your photos – it’s contagious! What’s your secret to staying so cheerful?”
- “I have to say, your profile really caught my eye. The [insert interest from their profile] is a huge plus. Any favourite memories related to it?”
- “Your dog is adorable! I have a soft spot for furry friends too. Any chance for a puppy playdate in the future?”
- “You seem like someone who enjoys a good adventure. If you could choose any destination for our first date, where would it be?”
- “I appreciate someone who can appreciate the little things in life. What’s one simple pleasure that always brings a smile to your face?”
Juno Kelly is an editor and journalist focused on internet culture and social commentary. Her work has appeared publications including The Cut, The Fence and LOVE Magazine