The Robot That Knows When to Swipe Right

A new Tinder bot learns who its human overlord finds attractive. Then it goes to work.

I have come to think of Tinder as a sort algorithm for the mind. It surfaces individual data entries—which happen to be humans—and asks the user to make a single decision about them: Would you make out with this person? Or, more tamely, would you be friends with this person?

If both minds sort each other’s data entries into the same category, a chat window opens.

The process is efficient, and the computer does everything except make that one, crucial choice. But perhaps that is too much work. Perhaps that single choice can be automated.

The Vancouver-based programmer Justin Long has done just that. In a post on his personal website, he describes how he automated Tinder using facial-recognition algorithms and a chat bot.

The bot, he writes, is “amazingly effective”—so effective he eventually turned it off.

Long’s bot, which he calls Tinderbox, has two steps: a sort phase and a chat phase. First, Tinderbox asks users to sort 60 faces from Tinder into the “yes” or “no” piles. Using the facial-recognition scheme Eigenface, it notes what kind of features users seem to like—attempting, in other words, to distinguish a user’s “type.” Then it goes to work, automatically sorting images from other Tinder users along the parameters it judges important.

Once it has made a match, Tinderbox’s work enters the second stage. Long doesn’t interact with his matches until they’ve replied to the bot three times in a row. Long explains: “The advantage of this? It removes the time involved in filtering new Tinder matches since a lot of people tend to drop off and ‘go dark’ early in the process.”

Tinderbox’s pre-programmed chats include the opening:

“{name} are you a fan of avocados?"

And, following a positive reply:

“So if I asked you to have a guacamole party with me you’d do it?”

Only after all this does Tinderbox notify its human taskmaster that there’s a match ready to chat.

Long says the bot has sent him on 10 dates. It was so successful he says that he eventually had to turn it off, as it “started to conflict with work.” In his blog post, he also anticipated claims of creepiness:

I’ve shown my partners the bot in its entirety. One date literally didn’t believe me and thought I was pulling her leg. Another person thought it was really cool and wanted the full tour. All were in agreement that it is not creepy, though some felt it was borderline.

There is always some commodification in online dating. You go to because it’s a craft market and because it’s a date market. But if Tinderbox is unsettling, it’s because it takes that commodification to the next level—treating people not just as data entries within Tinder but as piles of data themselves. And it’s always a little disquieting, too, to learn that you thought you were talking to a human (about avocados!) when you were in fact talking to… a bot.

Or maybe not. Because, to be honest, how many IRL wingmen could pass the Turing test in the first place?