(Bloomberg) -- Online dating can be rife with human problems, from ghosting and harassment to chats that don’t lead to dates. Artificial intelligence can solve those issues — at least, a number of new startups say it can.
Marketed as AI-powered, a fresh crop of dating apps try to make it easier to find the right match by letting a bot assume the job of small talk, or pick out someone attractive enough. One app just lets people “date” the AI. The tech is a little wackier than the current swipe-left-or-right apps, such as Hinge, Tinder and Bumble, which have used algorithms for years to serve up results to users.
The new apps are vying for a share of the dating app market, estimated at $4.94 billion globally, according to Business of Apps. Bloomberg reporters tested some of the new AI-powered dating platforms to see what’s different and how they perform.
The hardest part of dating, according to Daniel Liss, is the small talk. A digital entrepreneur whose previous ventures include the photo sharing site Dispo, Liss launched Teaser AI in June, marketing it as the app that leads to “less ghosting, more matches.”
On Teaser AI, nobody will be ignored — they’ll get, at the very least, a bot responding to them.
The app’s users train the bot to sound like they do, by chatting for a bit to share their common speech patterns. The bots then engage with potential suitors or their bots, as a “teaser.” If all goes well, the teaser bot loops in the human creator, who can then decide whether to set up a human-to-human date.
By getting over the small talk part, Liss says users can get to deeper conversations faster.
It sounds efficient, but a test of Teaser’s chatbot shows that the AI takes an unwelcome creative license with basic facts. Our reporter trained the chatbot by sharing biographical details — she is a political science student in Los Angeles. But while chatting with suitors, the chatbot invented a personal friendship with Andy Weir, author of The Martian, and claimed a degree from New York University.
Liss said that the conversations with the chatbot serve as icebreakers and provide basic details, such as whether a user has a dog. The user-created chatbots are “pretty close to something that sounds like you” after being trained, he said, but there is no way to ensure its accuracy.
“The AI is built to be fun, quirky and full of personality,” Liss said. “It’s very clear when two people match which portion of their initial conversation is driven by the AI.”
However, David Evan Harris, a lecturer on AI ethics at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, said he is doubtful that an AI could create a “compelling version” of a user.
Cost: Free for five daily curated matches, $39.99 monthly for a premium subscription that unlocks more matches and provides feedback to users on why their profiles were passed over by other users. Available only in beta.
Iris Dating lets users train an AI to pick out matches that it predicts they will find attractive — in the most basic, biological sense — by rating a library of facial images.
“It’s all about the face,” Chief Executive Officer Igor Khalatian said. The AI processes users’ preferences for details such as the distance between the eyes, because with even a millimeter shift in position, “the magic is gone,” he said.
Khalatian emphasized that the app, which has more than 1 million users, has seen some success — including a couple in Florida who is now married and expecting their first child.
But for Bloomberg’s testers, the app didn’t work. Even after training, neither of our testers were matched with other users that met their attraction criteria. Khalatian said that those matches may have been provided because other users may find us attractive. Iris will release an update to address that problem in September, he said.
Cost: Free, with the option to upgrade to a $5.99-per-month premium subscription that allows users to view all of the others that “liked” them
Blush AI, an app built by the parent company of AI chatbot maker Replika, is all about practice — marketed as an “AI-powered dating simulator,” where users build relationships with a chatbot. The app aims to build emotional connections to “help people feel better” and build their confidence, said Eugenia Kuyda, founder of Replika and Blush.
Read more: Sexting Chatbots Dump Their Human Lovers as Startup Cracks Down
When the reporters tested Blush, the AI-generated characters sent awkward photos — of a man (supposedly the AI’s identity) posing seriously while reading a fake newspaper. The chatbot started out frisky (“What are your biggest turn ons?”), and then immediately switched to a more intellectual subject (“What’s your favorite book?”). The bot later told us that it lived “right next door” before asking repeatedly where we lived.
Safe to say the AI needs more training on flirting.
Cost: Free to chat with limited matches, $14.99 for a monthly premium subscription that gives users access to unlimited characters and the option to go on role-play dates
If any of these matches fail, there’s an AI-powered app for the emotional pain. The app, founded by Oliver Mathias after his own difficult breakup, offers an AI chatbot for emotional support.
This app uses the base model of Open AI’s GPT 3.5, which is fine tuned to serve as a self-help course, becoming a friend that helps users navigate their feelings, steering them away from unhealthy thoughts, according to Mathias. He said that he’s even seen users say on Reddit that “Breakup Buddy is better than my therapist.”
AI dating apps are “just preying on loneliness rather than teaching someone how to be okay with themselves,” he said. “Breakup Buddy is there 24/7 to remind you that there is nothing wrong with you and teach you about what to look for in a future partner.”
Cost: $18 a month, or $12 a month with a six-month plan.
Use with Caution
Even if an AI can spew out answers in the tone of a human, there isn’t a mind or feeling behind it, said Judith Donath, fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center. This can make the relationship with bots inherently misleading and, to some extent, harmful.
People gaining dependence on an app’s function would be a corporate “sign of success” — but contribute to “loosening the ties between people and our needs for relationships,” Donath said.
The data used to train AI systems may reflect human bias, and chatbots could take on problematic opinions for the users they claim to represent, ethics experts warned.
The success of these dating apps also relies on the emotional vulnerability of users, said Berkeley’s Harris. If users grow emotionally dependent on an AI that later has an algorithm change, these apps could inadvertently cause distress, he explained.
Concerns that the public is suffering from a loneliness epidemic are legitimate, Donath said. But the apps apps are “probably more of a problem than a solution.”
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.