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Can Algorithms Lead to True Love?

Is there an algorithm for love?

A new start-up, Yoke.me, is sure hoping so. The new algorithm-based matchmaking service takes information from your Facebook page and matches you with people from your extended social circles who have the same interests. Do you like the same movies? Live in the same area? Why not grab a cup of coffee and talk about your common interests?

Yoke  


On the one hand, this seems like it should work. After all, haven’t all singles pored through pictures of their friends’ friends, found the cute profile picture and wanted more information about his or her relationship status? This service provides just that. One the other hand, how many of your Facebook “friends” are really friends? Are the bands, books, and shows we’ve liked on Facebook really indicative of who we are? The approach, rather than the flawless aim of Cupid, seems rather awkward and presumptuous.

Eli Finkel is a professor of social psychology at Northwestern University and he published a report on online dating and matchmaking services. “Technology is not the way to figure out who is compatible and will never be,” he said. “At the end of the day, the human algorithm — neural tissue in our cranium called a brain — has evolved over a long period of time to size up people efficiently. On a blind date, a person arrives and in that instant I can say I’m glad I did this or regret it.”

Yoke.me isn’t the first to try using a love algorithm to jumpstart relationships. Matching algorithms have been used since the introduction of sites like eHarmony. Research indicates that the algorithms tend to be more random than precise, though, so even if they can limit the number of profiles shown in the matches, that doesn’t mean you’ll find true compatibility with another person. At the very least, it can introduce you to people you may not have otherwise met, and thus broaden the number of people you interact with. This could pave the way for more results down the road.

Ultimately, the problem with sites like Yoke.me is that they draw from our often less-than-accurate personas on Facebook. Rather than giving a completely honest picture of who we really are -- the picture you’re more likely to get on an actual first date -- we use social media sites to create how we want to be perceived. When algorithms pull from that data, then, they are starting from a flawed base.

But Rob Fishman, who led the development of Yoke.me explains that the service is more of an ice-breaker than anything else. Obviously you don’t know on the first date whether you want to marry the person, but the first date is essential in ultimately making that decision. Sites like Yoke.me can speed up the process just a little bit by filling both parties in on their similarities -- you like the same movies, so talk about them.

And yet, in spite of the more advanced algorithms, the technology still seems slow and cumbersome, especially when you consider the other technological advances out there like Siri, that can respond to questions and send email and text messages. The beauty of Cupid is that no one sees him shoot the arrow -- it just hits the heart at the right time. So it should go with technology, if it is to help with matching compatible couples. Whether it will ever get there, though, is a question yet to be answered.

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