In just 15 years, our collective pursuit of finding The One has changed from relying on chance encounters down the pub or in the workplace into AI-powered digital matchmaking on a global scale.
With the launch of the iPhone in 2007, Steve Jobs didn’t only kick-start a tech-revolution. He indirectly catalysed an evolution of love, too. In just two years Grindr burst onto the app store, followed by Tinder in 2012, and Bumble in 2014.
These largely free apps have made it possible for users to compare an endless stream of potential suitors in just a few swipes. And you only need a Facebook profile to prove you even exist. Finding love in most parts of the planet is now as convenient as ordering a takeaway.
But online dating has also presented us with a host of new challenges.
From ghosting: where people suddenly digitally disappear after forming a connection or even a relationship with somebody - to orbiting - where ex-matches watch your social media accounts like digital zombies, online dating has undeniably changed how we now value interacting with new people.
So as we look to a future of online dating peppered with gene profiling, live compatibility scores and AI so advanced it knows if you pay your bills on time, I ask the fundamental question facing Generation Swipe today: are we actually ready for the next step in online dating?
Tinder and Bumble have hit a bit of a roadblock. As the most popular dating apps on the market, both utilise ‘swipe-matchmaking’ to enable their users to scroll through thousands of potential matches in their local area (or even in a different country).
Quantity of matches is not the issue; but rather the quality of them is. Both apps have fallen victim to economies of scale: the more people swipe and match, the less valuable these matches become. People no longer really value that match notification.
Why nurture conversations when you can stockpile them for a rainy day instead?
Matches are now so easy to come by that strange app-based addictions like ‘match-farming’ have emerged. Match-farmers seek to match with as many people as possible with no intention of forging a relationship with them. They instead are seeking regular short-term ego boosts.
Many online daters are subsequently exhausted with the current state of affairs. Competitors like Hinge, who are marketing themselves as anti-Tinder, believe AI and machine learning could provide the answer to this user fatigue.
Advanced algorithms could tailor your matches, for example. It could personalise your experience based on how you use the app - how much time you spend on it, what kind of profiles you browse, the style of the messages you send, the time it takes for you to respond, and whether you actually start a chat or even ask for a date.
Machine learning can also consider other factors beyond what you put on your profile. By having access to your phone it can, in theory, analyse if you pay your bills on time, what websites you visit, the kind of content you engage with online, your activity on Netflix, the kind of news you share on your social media profiles, and the time you actually spend in the gym. It could even analyse the kind of pictures you take.
Clearly, this vision of the future of dating might result in opposing reactions. One person’s horror at a dystopian, Black Mirror level of invasive profiling might be another person’s relief that this way they’ll waste less time discovering traits they may find off-putting.
The algorithmic approach also offers to provide an answer to a question many daters struggle to answer themselves: What do I really want?
With such complex machine learning access to your entire data profile, daters could find themselves matched with people of a similar mental mindset.
Siri the love coach?
Last year, Match.com launched Lara - a dating chatbot hosted on Facebook messenger. The AI-powered chatbot is designed to help daters find potential matches and improve their profile. Dating site Badoo have gone one step further by launching a lookalike feature that uses facial recognition software to match with people that look like your favourite celebrities.
And AIMM, a voice-activated AI assistant much like Siri, asks you questions over the course of a week or so to suggest matches based on your responses.
Digital love assistants are a fundamental part of our online dating future. For example, AIMM will use voice to detail your matches’ perfect date, it will retell embarrassing stories from their childhood, and take you on personalised photo tours with audio snippets.
The AI part of your new love coach will listen to how you respond to its questions and refine what it says to you. Do you get excited when you discuss money? AIMM will know.
All of this is aimed at solving the quality over quantity issue. However, there is a catch: none of these companies really want you to leave their app. Although Hinge’s new catchphrase is “designed to be deleted”, a company that actively pushes away its customers isn’t asking to be around for very long.
Although these businesses rely on happy couples singing their praises, it does offer an insight into why the online dating industry is so slow to embrace or even fund new technologies that could offer their customers a greater experience right now.
I like how you wear your genes
What if there was a more scientific solution that went beyond glossy profiles, suggested icebreakers and unpredictable dates? How about applying 66 million years of evolution into your dating profile?
They hope that by you sending them some of your saliva, they could find your perfect match by analysing your gene-structure and matching you with people of the opposite profile.
This, dear reader, is the very un-sexy world of gene match-making.
The theory behind DNA-matching is that certain genes connected to your immune system, known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), heavily influence the kind of person you are attracted too. This level of connection would, in theory, ensure you are still attracted to each other in the real world, beyond the carefully-crafted profile pictures.
And don’t assume people are precious about their DNA, either. 26 million people in the United States have already sent samples of their saliva to various private labs to discover details of their family history and relatives. The jump to online dating is hardly that difficult to imagine.
Although the research behind this isn’t comprehensive, one of the largest online dating sites, eHarmony, is expecting a swarm of lab-made romances by 2025, according to a 2018 report about the future of dating.
"By analysing MHC gene codes, online dating platforms could close the gap between predicting whether their subscribers who initially are attracted [to] each other online, will still be attracted to each other, once they get offline," eHarmony wrote.
AR: real-time compatibility scoring
Imagine a world where you could simply walk into a bar and hold your phone up to scan the room and see who is single. Now imagine seeing a compatibility score pop up next your crushes head - a number based on the vast amount of data gathered by AI on both them and you. If the number is green - and so a positive match, would you still feel nervous about walking up to them?
This is the future of online dating at its absolute peak and it’s only about 20 years away. Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming increasingly normalised; think of the popularity of PokemonGo.
Although Google Glass, Google’s AR glasses, were unpopular - viewing AR via the lens of your smartphone screen is not that far fetched.
The ingredients for AR dating are already here, after all. We can already view advanced shopping and search features via Google Lens, and a recent announcement by the tech giant showed beta users utilising its new AR Google Maps navigation tool.
Real-time compatibility scoring is simply pulling in information already made available into a live design for you to view on your phone. All that’s required is for you to be comfortable with the idea of walking around with a score above your head. A score determined by an algorithm designed by people on the other side of the planet.
Moreover, the more comfortable we get with AR, the less questionable physical augmentations become, too. There is already a blossoming virtual love market on platforms like Second Life between people and their avatars. What’s to stop avatar dating, but in the real world?
Give the people what they want
The future of online dating, like anything, will involve a lot more technology in the hope that it will provide more accurate matchmaking for its customers. As more data becomes available and people begin to feel more comfortable with AI programmes using it, this future reality looks very probable.
To some people, this sounds fantastic. The idea of signing up to an app and having it find matches that have similar politics, opinions, financial situations and a fairly transparent digital history is a dream come true. To others, it’s a dystopian nightmare straight from Black Mirror.
To me, throwing more technology at problems already caused by technology doesn’t seem to be the most rational path to take, however. Problems like ghosting and orbiting will no doubt be accelerated as we embrace digital match-making as the new norm. The impact of both will keep evolving as we bring more AR into the mix.
Or, perhaps, the severity of both issues will decrease as we become normalised to them too. And with 50 per cent of couples expected to meet online by 2031, this is probably going to be the case.
For those seeking a less digital approach to dating, the good news is that with any trend, there is always a counter movement. Low-tech dating will no doubt probably blossom too, as we are seeing in places like Hong Kong, where dating apps are hosting more offline meetups for its users; like summer camps and 5k singles runs.
Regardless of what you think, try asking your grandparents how they met; our future seems a hell of a lot more complicated than theirs ever did.