Algorithms can’t predict true compatibility

Have you guys seen this new Amazon Originals thing, where they’re creating (or just buying the rights to) various potential TV projects? It’s kind of interesting. I just watched a bunch of the pilots over the weekend, and one of them in particular stuck out to me. Not because it was super good, no—the super good one is Those Who Can’t. But this one, Betas_ (their name NOT mine), stuck with me because the core concept (spoilers) is these guys trying to get funding for their social app which is supposed to help you find your most compatible matches. (I think not just romantically, but that’s the use case they demonstrate.)

Their app (stupidly called “brb”) is supposedly excellent at helping connect people with those whom they might actually share a true connection with. The episode ends with them proving to a Silicon Valley funding god that it works, because he gets along better with the brunette their algorithm selected than with the blondes he naturally gravitated towards. Shallow data, I know, but it’s a half-hour pilot so we have to cut them some slack. Their main pitch about how the app works is essentially that it pairs people based on similar hobbies and interests.



Here’s the thing: hobbies and interests are only a tiny fraction of the total picture. How many people have you met who shared hobbies or interests with you, but were NOT people you pictured dating? (My answer is kind of a lot.) If that were the true measure of compatibility, I think we’d all pair up much more easily. No, beyond basic data matches like age range and mutual attraction, hobbies and interests are a drop in the bucket. Heck, I married a video game designer, but I’m not a massive gamer and we still get along wonderfully. He doesn’t share my interest in natural skincare; he’s never once let me put weird product on him. (OK, that’s a lie. Ready for a very private admission? I can SOMETIMES get him to allow me to scrub his back with this great exfoliating cleanser on the rare occasions when we’re in the shower at the same time. He still protests though so I kinda have to sneak attack with it.) He doesn’t give much of a damn about gardening, though he’s happy to admire the flowers I manage to cultivate in our little plot. He doesn’t quite share my passion for sustainable food. He will never, ever, ever drink one of my green smoothies, or watch the shitty vampire shows I’ve come to love.

And yet, we’re well matched. Our politics and morals and religious beliefs are similar, though not identical. Our personality types mesh well together; we’re both right in the middle on the introvert-extrovert scale, and we both came from somewhat similar socio-economic backgrounds, even though I was raised by sometimes crazy sometimes hippies and he was raised in a more conservative family. There’s this chemistry in how we converse, in our quick wit, in our love of similar media and our passion about the things that light our fire, even though those things are different. No list of hobbies and interests would have put us close to a 100% match, yet most of my clients come to me asking for the kind of relationship we have with each other. All I can say is, that doesn’t come from just an algorithm!

Online dating isn’t a guarantee  of compatibility, it’s simply a medium to help you connect with potentially compatible people. You can narrow things down to a reasonable degree, but at the end of the day, getting out there and feeling whether you have an initial spark or not is absolutely a necessary part of the process. Don’t just trust a 97% match from a machine; make your own decisions!

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