Remember, we are talking about the number one way that young people meet each other: Tinder’s algorithm has an outsized influence on how couples form in modern life. It doesn’t seem great if the most prolific Cupid in human history works by subdividing its users like a ‘Hot or Not?’ game show and then pairing them off.
For the sake of balance, it’s important to note that I don’t think Tinder is inherently evil, or that it represents any kind of “dating apocalypse”. After all, it’s not like physical appearance doesn’t matter when you’re looking at who to date – in some ways, the engineers at Tinder have just made a more efficient and ruthless model of what happens in the real world anyway. Tinder certainly thinks its platform is good for society, dropping stats like this one which suggests online dating has increased the number of interracial marriages.
I note that my best friend is in a happy long-term relationship with someone he met on Tinder and the odds aren’t bad that yours is, too – 74% of Tinder users report having a long-term relationship Catholic Sites dating app, compared to 49% of offline daters.
To me, this is the real story about why Tinder’s algorithm matters – not because it fails to match people into relationships, but because it does; with pretty remarkable success. That means that issues with the algorithm have very real consequences for those young people.
For instance, take the concerns that the dating apps’ algorithms have biases against black women and Asian men. Not only is the very concept of “desirability” a questionable one to build an algorithm around, but Tinder and other apps display a pretty loaded idea of what “desirable” tends to look like. Of course, these issues are nothing new, but it’s pretty troubling for these biases to be built into the algorithms that now run modern dating. Even Tinder’s leadership recognises the scale of these challenges. Jonathan Badeen, Tinder’s senior vice president of product, told a reporter this about the app:
“It’s scary to know how much it’ll affect people. I try to ignore some of it, or I’ll go insane. We’re getting to the point where we have a social responsibility to the world because we have this power to influence it.”
Sure, it’s easy to wonder how a company that recognises this deep “social responsibility to the world” could have also built a system that allocates users a desirability score. But the broader picture here is more important, with AI being used to make decisions and classify us in ways we don’t know and probably wouldn’t expect.
For all we think of love as a personal, intimate thing, the reality is that love is increasingly engineered by a few programmers in Silicon Valley. As it turns out, love can ultimately boil down to a coding challenge. There’s something quite depressing about that, but it appears that little will slow down the rise of Tinder’s AI as the world’s most prolific wingman. It’s not yet clear what the full consequences will be from delegating some of our romantic decision-making to an algorithm.
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Yep. Sure, you get to swipe left or right, and decide what to message (please do better than these people), but Tinder’s algorithm decides which few of the thousands of nearby profiles to show you in the first place and which of those people are seeing your profile. This AI is like the world’s most controlling wingman, who doesn’t necessarily want you to shoot for your dream partner. Instead, they’ll actively push you towards people they think are more in your league.