I am very bad at making swipe-decisions on Tinder. And frankly, who isn’t? We employ the same sorts of cheap tests for determining dateability — vetting profiles for, say, a combination of hip-hop references, pizza references, mentions of a creative job, and glimpses of a beard lush enough to cover emotional unavailability.
So when the True Love Tinder Robot said, “I am a robot. I know better than you,” in her little digital voice, I was more than willing to believe her. Which is how I became the first person to plop down my phone and let a disembodied hand measure my galvanic skin responses while swiping through Tinder on my behalf.
“We already kind of rely on computers to help us look for love and romance and sex, because we trust OKCupid and Tinder and these apps and sites to match us with people using their mysterious algorithms,” explained the robot’s inventor, Nicole He. “This is not that different. It’s just another computer that says it’s going to help you, it knows who you should match with.” A graduate student in NYU’s interactive telecommunications program, He created the True Love Tinder Robot — a modern twist on the classic love-tester machine — as her final project.
The bot is pretty simple: It consists of a rubber hand straight from the uncanny valley attached to a cute wooden box and sheet metal sensors through which the robot reads your skin response. If your hands start to get sweatier (i.e., display interest), the bot will swipe right; if there’s no demonstrable change, the bot will swipe left. My brain often gets Tinder wrong — but maybe my body will tell the truth?
I put my hands in the sensor, and after a brief introduction by the robot, I was directed to focus on the first swipe. I spent about five seconds assessing just his first picture (there’s no looking at multiple). He’s cute! Has a beard, blue eyes, thick hair. I’d swipe right.
The bot swiped left.
Next up, a man with tattoos and cool hair. Right swipe. Duh.
“I do not see a match for you,” said the bot and swiped left.
“Look at this person; do you see yourself spending your life with him?” the robot asked. I tried to focus on his full lips and hazel eyes. I wanted a right swipe. But apparently my body didn’t, because True Love Tinder Robot passed on him, too.
And then came Finance Jay with the shiny face. Hard left.
“I see you two together,” the bot said, and swiped right. Maybe she knew something about what my body really wants that I didn’t?
“You are desperate for love,” she announced. So, yes, I guess she did.
After that, we were on a steady string of right swipes, collecting many “bags of meat,” as the robot described my approved matches. Sadly, none of my matches were men I’d ever wanted to match with, as far as I knew. (And I later spent the rest of the night fielding messages from them, by the way.)
In about seven minutes and 20 swipes (she is efficient!), it appeared Tinder Robot and I were not really on the same page. Her read on my taste was totally inaccurate, I told He.
“It’s surprising to me that people genuinely believe it’s going to be accurate,” she replied. “I think there is the idea that computers are smart; they can do math really fast and therefore they can do mysterious things that we don’t understand and we should trust them. It’s interesting because you trust it if it gives you a human element. It’s human enough to make little jokes about you, but it’s still saying, I’m a robot, I know better than you about yourself.”
He had totally just outed me. Even as the bot swiped right on men I would normally ignore, I kept thinking to myself, Well, this bot must know something I don’t, or This bot is reading my galvanic responses. That’s a big word; the bot must be right on some level. I was absolutely willing to accept True Love Tinder Robot’s recommendations, in much the same way I would accept a horoscope-based matching or a Myers-Briggs Type pairing.
He suggested that this sort of haptic measurement might have practical applications beyond just an art project — the Apple Watch heartbeat component could easily be used to swipe for us, she suggested. But are we willing to let our Robot Overlords also act as yentas? Currently, True Love Tinder Robot sucks at Tinder. But so do I. But simply because the robot is a robot, I’m confident that her decisions suck a little bit less. Plus, when the Tinder date goes horribly wrong, at least I can blame the robot and not my own human fallibility.