AI is developing so fast that this article will probably be out of date within a week. It has the potential to change the way we form relationships, with both risks and rewards. Below, we’ll explore some of those possibilities and hear about some exciting new dating projects that respond to AI developments.

Matching algorithms will get better

AI already helps match people on dating apps with compatible partners through algorithms that analyse their preferences, interests, and personality traits. These could be made more useful by incorporating more data to keep improving the model that comes from a wider pool than just one dating app. This could include all data from published research; behavioural information from people going on dates (such as whether they went on a second date); more subjective data (like satisfaction levels from the date); and even neurophysiological data (perhaps relating to attraction or anxiety levels).  Eventually, the whole internet could be used to find us matches without the use of apps, reducing the time and effort required to find a compatible partner.

Bots could do the tedious parts of online dating for us

It’s already possible to create a bot to use on a dating app to increase the efficiency of the process of scrolling more profiles or generating more matches – although the app has to give permission. An example of a script for Tinder (that would violate the terms of its usage) using the programming language Python can be found here. Perhaps soon we will all outsource the browsing and swiping to an API.

As discussed in a previous blog post, it’s already possible to create AI-powered chatbots on dating apps could provide advice on how to create an effective profile, suggest icebreakers and conversation starters, and answer common questions about the app. This one is available to use:

AI could give us more personalized recommendations

AI-powered apps and platforms can already recommend events, activities, experiences, and products based on our personal preferences, potentially facilitating the formation of deeper connections with others who share our interests. The next step could be to do this with knowledge of our diary without being prompted – seeing that we had a date, it could suggest an outfit or fragrance to buy (based on data about you and your date) or noticing we had nothing planned for the weekend, recommend a singles event in our area for our age range that had been successful for similar daters in the past. Then it’s a short step to recommending people to date, too.

Virtual assistants could be healthy companions on the dating journey

AI-powered virtual assistants will become a part of our daily lives, providing us with emotional support, companionship, and even advice on our relationships. When we catastrophise about how much we hate dating, they could remind us that of our last ten dates, we enjoyed five. When we get anxious before a date, they could play a meditation that calmed us down last time. When we are tempted to message an ex, they could remind us of what happened last time and suggest other more healthy ways to meet our emotional and sexual needs. These assistants could also help us maintain our relationships by reminding us of anniversaries, giving us feedback on our argument styles or suggesting a good time our partners are open to having a difficult conversation.

AI could provide us with coaching and therapy

AI-powered chatbots and language models can already provide conversational support to people who are looking for a listening ear or a sounding board. For people who have limited experience chatting online, this could provide useful experience, and as the technology evolves, these chatbots could provide personalized advice to individuals based on their unique circumstances and give them feedback on their online communication skills. It won’t be long before the use of audio and video are incorporated into these conversations: text to speech bots are already available, some that convey human emotions.

There are positive outcomes documented from people using bots that are trained to provide therapy, which could be used to become more resilient to the ups and downs of dating, teaching us to speak to ourselves in a more compassionate way when a date doesn’t work out or to have a more mindful approach to our emotions and bodily sensations when dating.

AI could be better at dating than us

But is there a danger that AI could be a replacement for human relationships? Some fear that AI-powered sex dolls, for example, could cause socially inexperienced people to treat them badly with no consequences (and then apply those learnings to humans). Others argue that it is already possible to become emotionally attached to a bot (the novel Speak by Louisa Hall provides a convincing context for this) and that such attachments will be likely to be secure, creating healthy experiences that are felt by the body in the same way as those with humans. According to well-established research in attachment theory, this would have many positive outcomes for relationships.

Animator Christian Darkin uses AI to create deep fakes for TV and films and says “Recently it’s become possible to use deepfake technology to alter your voice or even your face on video-calls. In a sense, this isn’t much of a change – there has always been a chance that your blind date will turn out to look completely different from their profile pictures.  However, what’s new now is that AI chatbots can be taught to go out into the dating world and have conversations on their own.  This means that in future you may be texting, or even video-calling with someone who is, in fact, a machine.“

While this prospect will make some even more mistrustful of online dating, others may benefit from the experience of exchanging messages when they used to get none and having their first video-date.

“Within a year or so,” Christian predicts, “we could be seeing AI profiles on the major dating sites, having conversations and interacting just as humans do. They’ll be very well attuned to understanding what makes a good online conversation, and, without the personal hang-ups and needs ‘real’ daters bring to the table, AIs will probably do very well on the dating scene. The real question is who will be behind these AI daters – will they be real humans looking to vet their potential matches? Or will they be scammers and fraudsters?”

A third alternative is that the bots grow independently, learning from their own experiences and developing their own personalities, identities and preferences. At the moment, bots need to be given a purpose or a goal, but in future such automated agents could choose their own – and no doubt some will want to experience emotional connection and find love. Whether this is possible without a physical body is debatable, but it seems plausible that such self-directed bots could experiment with forming relationships with each other and even with humans (such as in the film Her).

AI can enhance your online dating experiences

If you are online dating right now, how can you use the publicly-available natural language processing models to improve your dating? AI can analyse user conversations and messages to identify patterns and understand what types of messages lead to successful matches. This data could be used to generate more effective messages that are tailored to the user’s preferences and communication style.

Ice White, author of the best-selling book The Message Game, has just released an AI version of his Message Game (MG), called MGAI, the AI wingman for online dating for heterosexual men. He says, “MGAI was not my idea. It was the idea of my readers, many of whom messaged me in the same week proposing that they could help me build an AI chatbot based on my book. It seemed like a good idea, so I asked my network, having previously worked in the technology and Internet industry previously for years. I was very quickly connected to the CEO of an AI platform called Novo AI who offered to help make it happen.”

Ice was aware of the possible dangers: “On the upside, there were a lot of guys who were looking for something like this to help them get a date. On the downside, we had a few people suggest that it could make dating apps less personal and could contribute to people losing touch with what really should just be basic communication skills.”

Many of his followers had tried using ChatGPT, but Ice’s new team found that only 7% of men found it useful for helping them message women. Ice suggests that “ChatGPT does not have the right data, and has not been developed by dating experts.”

One of the team hypothesised that in practice, users will want to use suggested responses for inspiration to craft their own messages. He referred to the ‘IKEA effect’, where there is a bias towards and more appreciation for assembling your furniture yourself over furniture that has been built for you. Over 62% said they plan to use MGAI in this way.

I asked Ice why he had only targeted heterosexual men. He told me, “For women it’s probably more to do with safety and filtering out the wrong guys than getting more matches. Also through some brief digging on Reddit a major problem seems to be that it’s hard to find genuine connections. It’s not something I have surveyed, since my audience is very one-sided. We do have a small group of women, mostly lesbians, but not enough to conduct in-depth research.”

So how is this program different from other chatbots? It’s all about the data an AI is trained on. Ice says, “The data itself comes from a library of conversations collected among thousands of men over a period of six years. The library had a very specific purpose: to learn, to get advice from other humans, to share mistakes and successes with using all kinds of messaging platforms. So essentially it’s as pure as it gets. Whereas other AI tools derive answers from Reddit and blogs, we’re filtering out bad or unqualified advice and using information that is really tried and tested.”

The MGAI Beta has just been released and can be found at t.me/MessageGameAIBot through the Telegram app. It includes a free trial.

How do we mitigate the risks of using AI?

I’ve already discussed elsewhere some of the risks associated with using AI to find a romantic partner, including the risk that AI algorithms can perpetuate bias and discrimination if they are not designed and trained properly. Another problem is that AI algorithms cannot communicate how they arrive at their decisions, which could lead to mistrust and a lack of transparency in the matchmaking process. There are as always privacy and security concerns: dating apps that use AI algorithms may collect large amounts of personal data. This data could potentially be used for malicious purposes or passed on to third parties. It’s important to check the data on which an AI has been trained and the ethical basis and purpose for the AI. Not all AIs will be alike!

The use of our data by bots that use our total online presence (from purchasing and scrolling history, social media, etc) to extrapolate our dating preferences and predict our compatibility might also work against us. If, for example, we like to challenge fake news online, we may be interacting with people who hold very different views from us, and an AI may deduce that we want to date people like them – which would be good for integration in society, but might be quite challenging personally!

Concerns about online dating as dehumanizing have been around since the first dating sites launched. The process of finding a romantic partner can be reduced it to a purely transactional and consumerist experience, in which we treat potential dates as commodities to be specified, compared, purchased and sent back like a new phone. But if a bot did some of the browsing, filtering,  initial matching and introductory messaging for you, it could make it a less consumerist experience – we would only enter at the human face-to-face date point of the process.

Will real-life dating make a come-back?

As dating apps become more populated with bots, there may well be a move towards more events that enable meeting people in real life.

When meeting people in-person, we are better able to gauge their personality, level of emotional availability and style of social engagement – and this can help form a more authentic connection, rather than one based on our own projections as we fill in the gaps while interacting with an online profile.

Meeting people in-person in group settings are particularly healthy. They can provide opportunities for shared experiences and activities, in which we can see how potential dates interact with others, share humour and fun and deal with differences of opinion. Singles events such as those run by Bored of Dating Apps or group dinner dating apps such as Zuma Dating can feel safer and more authentic, as well as less pressured. When online dating we might hold unhelpful beliefs such as “I must make a big impact with my first impression”, or “I  must send messages that are the perfect balance of warm, funny, clever and sexy”. In person, we have the opportunity to be ourselves, show a little vulnerability (which is attractive) and build a connection naturally.

Meeting people in person can also help us maintain and develop important social skills like empathy, active listening and being open to changing our minds and accepting influence from others, which are crucial for building healthy relationships. We can observe how others do it well or badly and learn from that.

Group interaction is also good for our mental well-being, making use of the social engagement system, which is a part of our mammalian nervous system that helps to make us feel safe. If you suffer from social anxiety, for example, having as many social interactions as possible is actually good for bringing down your anxiety levels and challenging your beliefs that there are bad consequences to socialising.

How should I respond to AI in my love life?

It may be useful to examine your responses to speculation about AI. Some people may be more mistrustful of AI than others, and that can be for many reasons from being better informed about AI to having a general belief that others are not to be trusted, which can come from our early experiences. You may have a tendency to be pessimistic about change or to be suspicious about powerful organisations that fund AI – perhaps with good reason, but sometimes because of cognitive biases that need examining in case they adversely affect our conversations on dates.

You can also have beliefs about the nature of love and how much we want it to be “manipulated”. On the one hand, you may believe love is something that is “meant to be”, serendipitous, that we “can’t help” falling in love and that it should happen naturally. On the other hand, there is a lot of science that can explain why we are attracted to certain people and what makes relationships last. If you feel uneasy about using technology to maximise your chances of lasting love, it is worth reflecting on where that response comes from and whether it is helpful.

Perhaps the most important response for you as a dater is to make sure you feel in control of your dating: that you are making healthy, ethical choices about which technologies to use and how to get the right balance of online and offline dating for you.

Main photo by Fauxels on Pexels.