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From AI dating to flirt coaches: How AI is changing dating, for better or worse

When Robert Winters was single back in 2017, he used artificial intelligence to find more matches on Tinder. He downloaded AI software that automatically swiped on profiles and started conversations for him, leading to hundreds of dating prospects. Not long after, Tinder banned him.

“Before the AI-Tinder hack that I implemented, there was maybe a dozen of matches [over] a few days,” he said. “Its difference is day and night.”

That program is far more savvy than the AI tools most people would use to find a date. Still, the 39-year-old digital design strategist from Belgium says even simple AI aids can optimize online dating.

Winters has used AI in a variety of ways to enhance his online dating experience, like creating this photo and others for his dating profile. (Robert Winters)

Last year, Winters started using AI to generate photos of himself for his dating profile. 

During that same period, a bunch of new AI-powered dating tools came out. They can help improve users’ dating profiles, assist with texting or even go on “first dates” for people. But their release has also opened up a debate on the ethics of their use. 

“There’s this question of: to what extent should we be allowing people to use AI to represent themselves?” said Liesel Sharabi, a dating app researcher and Arizona State University associate professor. 

“When does that become deceptive, and when is it helpful?”

Dating profile enhancement

Among other features, a slew of websites and phone apps say they can help people create a better curated first impression on dating apps. These kinds of AI services will:

  • Write your bio
  • Write your prompt responses 
  • Identify your best pictures
  • Create AI-generated images of you

Dmitri Mirakyan is the co-founder of YourMove AI, a website and app that offers an AI dating profile generator and reviewer, among other services. He says his company has written over 500,000 profiles and his website gets about 200,000 visitors every month.

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About a third of users are young men, he estimated. 

He says some people use his services because they’re introverted or are older and unfamiliar with dating apps.

“We help these folks get a leg up and dive into online dating because marketing yourself is hard,” Mirakyan said.

Two phones with an example of AI-enhance dating profiles, before and after.
Dmitri Mirakyan, pictured, co-founder of YourMove AI, says first impressions are crucial on dating apps, but hard to get right. (YourMove AI)

Kathryn Coduto, an online dating researcher and Boston University assistant professor, said while these tools may be useful, they can also make people appear less authentic.

“When AI is used to create a profile, it doesn’t really feel like you anymore. It feels like a computer trying to figure out who you are.”

Her research found that many people are hesitant to trust AI, even if there are benefits.

Pickup lines

Some apps offer users a rolodex of AI-generated openers. One shown in a TikTok ad says, “I’m not sure how to put this. I usually go for sevens, but I guess I’ll settle for a 10.”

Often, users can request a certain tone, from something sweet to something spicy. But developers say that no matter the style, their programs boost users’ confidence by helping them take that crucial first step while educating them on ways to improve their communication skills.

Unlike using AI for profile enhancements, Coduto said AI-generated pickup lines reflect a long-established practice — as many people rely on friends for help with openers.

“Is AI really different from friends when it comes to opening lines?”

Screenshots of three different ads for various AI flirting assistants.
In the last year, a bunch of new AI chat assistants have debuted in app stores. (CBC)

“Both guys and girls need help when opening up on dating apps. It’s an artificial environment that is not the same as in real life,” said Roman Khaves, co-founder of Rizz, an AI dating assistant. “Opening up is very nerve-wracking for a lot of users.”‘

Khaves says his app has had 3.5 million users since it launched last spring.

Coduto said men are often under far more pressure because they’re “still expected to send that first message or to have that really great opening line.”

Sometimes, the pickup lines can sound unnatural or silly, but that doesn’t mean people can’t change them.

“I think there’s an argument that you can learn from AI, particularly when we think about things like pickup lines.”

Messaging assistant 

Apps including Rizz and YourMove AI also allow users to upload screenshots of their online conversations to an AI scanner that suggests how to respond.

Dating apps like Bumble already include prompts to help people chat more easily.

These kinds of texting aids can play a key role in getting people to meet up in person, which is often a major goal for online daters, said Jevan Huston, an AI and dating app researcher and Hintze Law associate.

Assistive technology can dislodge people’s anxieties and “allow them to engage when they otherwise wouldn’t.”

A screenshot of a conversation that AI generated a conversation for.
An example of a real conversation that was scanned for a reply by an AI assistant. (Bumble/Rizz/CBC)

These texting aid apps are often subscription-based, and many people online say the costs are prohibitive. For example, Rizz offers a three-day free trial, but a week’s subscription costs $9.99, and a year’s costs $99.99.

Regardless, say a user finally lands the date they’ve been hoping for. Some might still find themselves in a Catch-22.

“AI is not going to help you have that real-life conversation,” Coduto said. 

“If you are communicating solely via AI or you’re really being assisted by AI, I definitely think that could be a form of catfishing.”

In defence of these kinds of services, Huston said people often present themselves differently online, whether that’s on social media or dating apps. 

Another point of debate involves disclosure. Users will have to decide if, how and when, it’s necessary to tell a date about using AI in conversation.

“Starting off on an honest foot is really important,” Coduto said.

A human and a robot hand hold a smartphone.
Khaves and Mirakyan say their apps can help people connect more in an increasingly competitive and difficult online dating scene. (Steven Silcox/Photo illustration/CBC)

Mirakyan said people using his chat assistant should be “as transparent as people that have a prosthetic leg should be transparent about the fact that they’re using a prosthetic leg to walk.”

“I don’t feel like anybody should be obligated to disclose that they’re an introvert or that, like, they’re drinking a beer to overcome the fact that they’re introverted and want to be more sociable.”

Another consideration is that uploaded screenshots capture a two-way conversation, so the other person would likely be unaware that their chats are being captured, shared and possibly stored by a third party.

Mirakyan and Khaves said their technology doesn’t save people’s information and only extracts and analyzes the text in conversations.

AI goes on dates for you

Some companies are alleviating people’s dating fatigue by creating AI-simulated blind dates.

Volar Dating, which launched in the U.S. earlier this year, is one such company. In a brief on-boarding process, users tell the chatbot about themselves — their age, location, hobbies. 

Then, using AI, the bot simulates a first date between two people.

A CBC test found that the AI sometimes extrapolates information to make up new talking points that may not be true, such as saying an avid reader read a particular book when they didn’t.

An AI-generated conversation.
An example of an AI-simulated first date on Volar. (CBC)

Once matched, users can then decide whether they’d like to send a message request to actually talk to the other person. 

“AI could be used to cut down on the amount that people are just swiping on dating apps,” said Sharabi, of Arizona State University. “It’s quite a bit different from how we engage with dating apps currently.”

Date an AI 

Last year, Replika, one of the leading AI chatbot companion firms, launched Blush, an app exclusively for AI dating. 

It works like a dating app, but the people aren’t real — they’re AI personalities, each one with its own backstory. 

Omri Gillath, a social psychology professor at the University of Kansas, says these relationships, which he called parasocial, aren’t healthy in the long term.

But in the short term, he says, they could create a safe space for some people to express their attachment needs.

“That said, as a society, we need to ask ourselves, is that the solution?”

A screenshot of an AI's profile on an AI dating app.
A screenshot from Blush’s website, showing an example of an AI profile. Its company’s tagline is ‘AI dating. Real feelings. (Blush.ai)

On its website, Blush says its app lets people practise dating in a controlled environment, and then apply those lessons in the real world, something Gillath is skeptical about. 

He pointed out that Blush and other similar programs include anime and furry characters that people can engage with. 

“So is that your practice for the real world, or is this just your way to fulfil your preferences?” 

Similar to the other AI dating apps, there is still not a lot of conclusive data about the effects of these products on people’s behaviour.

He said one thing is clear: “The further away that you get from face-to-face, in-person, human touch, the further you’re getting from what we evolved to do and evolve to be.”

Huston says that regardless of the stance people take on intimate relationships with AI, people should consider that there is an epidemic of loneliness in many societies. 

“If it can aid loneliness and provide, whether it’s partnership, companionship, someone to listen … I think that’s a value and something that should not be disregarded.”

Do these apps work?

Even though success can be measured in different ways, it’s hard to know what that would look like with AI apps, as there isn’t a lot of research and much of it isn’t public, Coduto said. 

Anecdotally, Mirakyan of the YourMove AI app says he has heard of success stories from users.

“Quite a few people have told me that they’ve found relationships through [using conversation tools],” he said.

“I’m going to be responsible for at least a couple of kids at this point.”

Meanwhile, Winters says the technology provides a kind of skill training in a world that has shifted online and away from spontaneous in-person interactions, especially for men. 

A portrait of a young man with glasses.
Winters says AI dating coaches are useful tools that can help people find their ‘dream partner.’ (Robert Winters)

He himself is no longer on the dating market. He met his girlfriend in person at an after-work event.

This is part of CBC News Social’s dating series, which explores the realities of being single and dating in Canada today.


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