Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Matchless

Another day, another 'relationship' piece in the NY Times - this one talking about researchers who are using sophisticated algorithms to help people find their soulmates [1], and making millions of dollars without having to deal with peer review. The thing that disturbed me, reading the article, was that I wasn't thinking "maybe that's what I should do to find a partner" as you'd expect from someone with a love-life as non-existent as mine; I was thinking "maybe that's what I should have done my dissertation on". Clearly the claims of Love are no match for the trials of the Proposal Defense [2].

I can't help thinking, by the way, that these personality match things are pretty scary. Never mind how much they increase the probability of your finding a mate. Just think of the self-revelation involved. There you are thinking you're this amazingly suave, charming person, and then suddenly you're on this boring date and you realize that this dull, opinionated, thoroughly unattractive person sitting across the table from you is the closest match to your own personality type, selected from among millions of potential candidates by a scientific, time-tested process. It's like the dating service of Dorian Gray.

I'd try it myself, except that if these algorithms are even slightly accurate I'd end up going out with some short-sighted frumpette who'd speak exclusively in haikus, refuse my suggestion to catch a movie because there were no Swedish films playing, guzzle six cups of espresso, get hysterical because the coffee shop was playing music composed in (horrors!) the twentieth century and because (gasp!) there were other people around, throw pepper in the face of the three year old at the next table and commit suicide in the ladies room halfway through the date, leaving behind a note that said that she was secretly lesbian. All of which would be pretty romantic, actually, except that I'm not into necrophilia (certain short stories notwithstanding).

Oh, and did you hear about the PhD student who came up with the absolutely infallible algorithm to identify potential couples? Apparently he could have made it really big, but he picked the wrong adviser.

[1] Actually, I toyed with the idea of developing an instrument that would help identify compatible couples myself at some point (it was first year, I'd been taking classes on designing and validating questionnaires, constructing scales, etc.) then decided I'd rather start a blog. Somehow I knew that the temptation to prevent Dan Brown fans from getting together and mating would be too much for me. With great power, etc.

[2] On the importance of capitalizing key terms to achieve the proper poetic effect, see Lewis Carroll, as quoted by A.E. Stallings here (scroll down to the bottom of the post)

[3] And for those of you who think I use too many endnotes, check out this short story over at the Guardian. So there.

14 comments:

Space Bar said...

:D this might or might not be the time to tell you - you've been tagged.

Alok said...

You have read about Stable Marriage Problem? It was part of our course though I never really understood it properly.

It may sound simplistic but the mathematics behind it is pretty hoary.

d said...

Apropos of one of your posts, one would be awfully obliged if you could sneak a peek at this.
http://badladies.blogspot.com/2008/01/illuminated-crowd.html

Tabula Rasa said...

i just cracked up at the thought of how you'd be a non-starter at a speed-dating party :-D

Falstaff said...

SB: Why?

alok: Interesting. Though as far as I can tell the solution is critically dependent on people who are engaged remaining open to proposals. Which is a fairly artificial assumption if you think about it.

d: You people are still going on about that?! Methinks parents doth protest too much.

TR: Talk about Schadenfreude

Space Bar said...

oh, because of the traumas of proposal defense of course.

km said...

Bah. Linda Goodman's "Sunsigns" clearly works better than any algorithm. It has united SO many losers..And by "losers" I really mean soulmates.

Cheshire Cat said...

You should watch "Quills" if you haven't; might end up being less close-minded about necrophilia...

Falstaff said...

space bar: gee thanks.

km: Ah, you mean by warning everyone but other losers off? True.

cat: Have seen, and see what you mean. And yes, if this date of mine really did look like Kate Winslet I would totally consider it.

Anonymous said...

Well i, like probably 60% of the world (the accuracy of that number largely disputed), compltely agree with your conclusions that these algorithms are intrinsicly flawed. I do not think that two people who have common interests are necessarily perfect for each other because more often than not, one's interest is pretty distinct from one's beliefs, and just because you are interested in something doesn't necessarily mean you believe in it (for e.g. i know a whole lot of people that love to read ayn rand but i know very few people that subscribe to her philospophy).

However, my cynicism over matters as such has dropped a great deal over the years and i am sorely tempted to blame it on the fact that i'm getting old. Truth be told, i dont think it is age. I just think that the reason such services make so much money is because of every human being's inherent need for companionship. IMHO, companionship is largely underrated and beyond this need to find a soulmate (if one such entity does exist for any person), i think in very simplistic terms everyone just needs that someone to lean on. It's only a matter of time when this need occurs in each person's life... Sooner or later it does catch up with you...

besides i dont even know whether one finds that perfect someone. when you do find someone, To me it seems that the differences cease to hold any value.

--c

Anonymous said...

I think, yes, that she would pretty much be that one, except of course you know she wouldn't leave just a note, she'd use all the toilet paper to write a fucking novella-sized footnote in Hungarian Free Verse with Mathematical Arguments and Literary Allusions and Dastardly Puns detailing her baroquely obscure arguments for (and against) suicide in general and the layers of meaning inherent in the word "lesbian" in particular. And of course, before she pushed the flush button which would eliminate her, she would make sure it was posted on her blog.

n!

ps: two words, Falsie, two words. "secretly lesbian?"

d said...

Oh don't be so cranky. Isn't it prettily written?

d said...

Oh don't be so cranky. Isn't it prettily written?

Mithila said...

Hey there, delurking here for a snark: If the espresso-swilling, pepper throwing, haiku-spouting frumpette is a female-equivalent of you, then are you implying all these match algorithms simply try to find the most like match as opposed to an optimal match?

Also, n! - loved the comment.