February 10, 2018

Love and the machine: Invasive algorithms help make ‘perfect’ match

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What if ... Worcester daters had a whole new algorithm with which to find their perfect match?

Wondering what the future could hold for online dating and data technology? Find out with author BJ Hill in the Sun’s serial glimpse into the fantastic, fascinating (and mostly fictional) possibilities of a not-so distant tomorrow.

WORCESTER, Feb. 11, 2023 — When it comes to finding Mr. Right, liking long walks on the beach just isn’t cutting it anymore. Paying bills on time, attending church and driving safely is.

Starting Feb. 14, L.T.R., the nation’s largest online dating service — whose original co-founder and several board members have ties to Becker College — will roll out new client-matching software that digs deep into users’ pasts. L.T.R. Chief Executive Officer Harry Savaram pitched the new features in a midweek press release.

“L.T.R.’s programming has regularly evolved to identify users’ best dating experience. As breakthroughs are made in Artificial Intelligence and data-mining techniques, we’re ready to perfect those advances and pass them on to our users,” he said.

“Traditionally, matches have been made based on information that clients have provided via long, time-consuming survey. Most questions had to do with hobbies, interests and future plans. Meeting matches this way is still the default option for users.

“Now, we’re about to roll out our Gold Account option, our biggest update since our site went live in 2019,” said Savaram.

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“Forget about clicking through lengthy questionnaires or writing open-ended questions. L.T.R.’s time-saving technology will fill in users’ data from records from school files, court records, genealogy databanks, and the hundreds of other data gatherers that we have agreements with.  This is a convenience for our users. Simply provide your email address to create an account, and our AI will use what it already knows about you to create a full profile in seconds,” he said.

“You’ll be matched with not just users you’ll like, but users who are good for you.”

Surprisingly, Savaram went on to announce L.T.R. would lease the algorithms to other dating sites.

“At what point do we, as potential matchmakers and collectors of this information, have a responsibility to our users, to children and to society to make sure that couples and parents are the best that they can be?” he said. “Is it ethical to encourage the future of two people who both have histories of making poor decisions?”

As for the thousands of variables the new software would screen, Savaram gave examples: home foreclosures; participating in rallies or marches; checkered work histories; enrolling in, but failing to complete, college courses; charitable giving habits; driving infractions; museum visits; usual bedtimes; purchases of dental floss; late returns of library books; and not using gym memberships.

He assured that while genetic statistics and family medical histories could be used, no personal medical records would be used as filters at this time.

“They world’s a big place and there are too many variables in meeting people,” concluded Savaram. “No one wants to waste their time. With our technology, no matter what dating site you choose, you can be sure that you’re matched with the perfect person.”

L.T.R. claims to have 87 million users enrolled in the United States. Blake Ellesly of Worcester says he has already signed up to upgrade his L.T.R. to the Gold Account.

“When you first start going out with someone, the first thing you do is look up their name on the internet and try to find all you can about them,” said the 32-year-old lawyer. “If a dating site wants to do that for me, then great. Sure, I give up a little more privacy and allow them to collect information that’s already publicly available, but it’s a time saver.”

Other users aren’t so sure. “So we’re leaving love and romance in the hands of Artificial Intelligence?” asked Jaylise Liung, a graduate student at Clark University who says she has used a competing dating site catering to Chinese-Americans. “The last time I checked, we marry for love, not for a tax break.”

Local blogger Chevonn Garner, who runs the “Dining With Diabetes” site, said “it’s no HIPAA secret I have diabetes, I write about it all the time,” in reference to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. “Two years ago, I started falling behind on bills when my hours were cut back at work. I’m straight now with the bank, but will my health history and my credit history always be invisible barriers against me finding the love of my life?”

At this time, the L.T.R. filtering system is optional. But users who opt in, couple, and later submit joint applications could benefit financially.

A host of businesses, from mortgage companies and daycare businesses to neighborhood associations, are already offering discounts to what are being called “Gold Couples.”

Savaram says the exact records and algorithms being used will never be made public, even to the users themselves. But the filter will determine who they can see as potential matches, or who can see them.

“These screening features are being pitched to users, but the way I see it, only institutions of power, like landlords and moneylenders, are benefitting,” said Don Arluke, a sociology professor at the College of the Holy Cross who studies Big Data and its ties to culture. “It sounds like L.T.R. is volunteering to do the banks’ research for them.”

It should be noted that Savaram has been L.T.R.’s CEO only since November. Previously, he had worked in the technology and then the financial industries.

“My concern is the social impact,” said Arluke. “I feel this technology will create a large group of men and women whose past is preventing them from moving on and becoming a meaningful member of society. This furthers the class schism. Research has shown that age, marriage and children will mitigate some of those irresponsible tendencies, so it’s defeating the purpose. L.T.R. algorithms are conflating good people, or good parents, with good consumers.

“This population, blocked from success in online dating, will be forced back to one of the few remaining bars and to find mates with the assistance of alcohol.”

Author’s notes: People have been using algorithm-driven dating services for years, and non-computerized matchmaking services for decades before that. So besides customer service and back-end programming, is there still a human touch to bringing people together? Or is it an automatized database residing on a computer server of metal and wires which brings together loves and souls?

While writing this, I was reminded of the tradition of arranged marriages, in which parents planned matches that were best for the future of the families. What if the computers were skewed to pick financially stable, “safe” mates that were best for the future of society?

These are points to consider while on your Valentine’s Day data, er, date.

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