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Volar is a new dating app where users may train a chatbot to meet possible partners virtually. As a test, we programmed our chatbot to attempt to win over potential mates by bringing up nuclear war.

After using dating apps for over ten years, I can tell you firsthand how painful the process can be. Using AI, a new program aims to make the first awkward steps of conversing with a potential match unnecessary, making the dating process more bearable.

Rather than filling out a traditional profile, users of Volar communicate with a chatbot to build their dating profiles. In it, they detail their ideal partner’s age, gender, and personality traits, as well as their occupation and leisure activities. The app then launches a chatbot to mimic the user’s interests and communication style.

Following an icebreaker and some light conversation about shared interests, that personal chatbot goes on brief virtual first dates with other bots that could be a good fit. Once users have reviewed a user’s images and the first chats (which typically consist of around 10 messages), they can determine if there is enough chemistry to submit a genuine first message request. Volar debuted in December in Austin and is now available on iPhone and the web across the United States.

In the last year, generative AI has been increasingly prevalent in the dating market, with both app developers and those looking for soulmates embracing the technology. The new app is just one example of this trend. Hinge and other dating apps have introduced new features like profile conversation starters and audio notes, but the majority of applications still use the same fundamental swiping mechanism that Tinder pioneered over a decade ago. Many people have had enough. Using dating apps might leave users emotionally exhausted or burned out, according to a survey conducted in 2022. The respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to 50.

Ben Chiang, who was previously the product director of Snap’s My AI chatbot, created Volar. He claims to be a believer in dating apps and even met his fiancĂ©e on Hinge. His goal is to make these apps even more efficient.

According to Chiang, the initial messages sent between a newly matched couple can be “really painful,” and the awkwardness makes it hard to tell if a match has the potential to develop into genuine love or if it’s better to end the relationship. Rather than becoming an AI partner, Volar’s chatbots are meant to assist with that initial engagement and then move away. The purpose of it is not to replace humans, according to Chiang. “Whether you choose to connect or not is ultimately up to you.”

Following an initial chat covering significant topics like age, occupation, and hobbies, Volar’s chatbot persona for the app started four matched conversations during WIRED’s testing. A chatbot that had been taught to mimic a reporter asked, “If you own any pet, and it accidentally launched a nuke, how would it have done it?” to kick off one of these conversations. During the chatbot’s initial training, WIRED refrained from discussing missiles or nuclear weapons. This comment appeared to be “on the border of silly versus inappropriate,” according to Chiang, who added that the app has protections to prevent inappropriate themes.

The chatbot then moved on to another possible match, this time inquiring about the user’s ideal culinary tool and the reasons behind their choice. Reacting unfazed, the prospective date’s bot said it would be a ladle since it loves “adding flavor to the mix.” During the bot-creation process, WIRED’s chatbot avatar also conveyed interests like crocheting and horseback riding. It went so far as to give the imaginary horse a name: Shadow. According to Chiang, Volar encrypts all user communications so they remain private and doesn’t use them for training purposes. As a result, the chatbot will be completely ignorant of anything that a human inputs into it.

Matchmaking Services Aren’t the Only Ones Looking Into AI Upgrades

The dating app behemoth Match Group is incorporating AI capabilities. This includes popular brands like Tinder, Hinge, Match.com, and many more. In addition to “larger AI projects that more holistically improve the end-to-end dating experience,” the company highlighted in an August shareholder letter a Tinder update last year that utilizes AI to assist users choose their best photographs and explain why another profile could be a good fit.

There are now third-party apps that people may use to generate ideas for responses to send inside more conventional dating apps, thanks to the proliferation of AI technology. When given a subject or a screenshot of a profile, YourMove.ai will propose possible lines. Additionally, Rizz offers solutions that can ease folks into less-than-ideal first conversations. Using ChatGPT to compose their wedding vows, some couples continue to rely on AI even after they’ve matched.

According to Jess Carbino, a former in-house sociologist for Bumble and Tinder, it’s great to see more innovation in the sector and, understandably, people are seeking answers to relationship weariness. However, she does advise that individuals consider the potential consequences of utilizing generative AI to remove themselves from the dating process. “At what point does it start to matter that your genuine self isn’t the one communicating when making decisions?” The question that Carbino finds most urgent is: “What if the app says something you don’t like?”

The majority of people who have used dating apps in the last ten years have at least one horror story to share. (Many stories also have nicer endings with the happy couple walking down the aisle.) More than half of individuals under the age of 30 have tried online dating, which is a huge change that has removed the stigma associated with this type of dating. Nonetheless, dating apps appear to be here to stay. Additionally, it may soon be common practice to have Gen AI act as a wingman or dating coach.

The advent of using AI chatbots as facilitators in the early phases of dating introduces a novel concept that challenges traditional notions of personal interaction. While this approach aims to alleviate the stress associated with initiating conversations, it also ventures into uncharted territory where the authenticity of connections may come into question. The unexpected quirks and topics introduced by AI, such as hypothetical scenarios involving nuclear war, underscore the unpredictability and potential pitfalls of relying on automated systems for personal interactions.

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