Sunday 19 November 2017

Secrets of attraction will stay secret for a little while longer

Now we have the proof that online matchmaking algorithms just don't work after all

'Although many dating apps already claim to have found the perfect codes for matching strangers, in fact whether two people 'click' is a completely lawless phenomenon.' (stock image)
'Although many dating apps already claim to have found the perfect codes for matching strangers, in fact whether two people 'click' is a completely lawless phenomenon.' (stock image)
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Amid all the news stories about big data, the future of technology and tech geeks taking over the world, the most romantic findings possibly ever published might have slipped under your radar.

A group of scientists have discovered that dating sites which claim to match couples based on complex algorithms simply do not work, because sexual attraction cannot be predicted.

With internet dating worth more than €2bn globally, Cupid-style technology giants have been scrambling for years to find the mathematical formula that will earn their business the reputation of orchestrating the greatest numbers of successful matches.

So have their discoveries found it is all down to looks, personality, background or hobbies?

Well, it turns out The Beatles were right all along: money can't buy you love - and certainly not the formula to it.

Although many dating apps already claim to have found the perfect codes for matching strangers, in fact whether two people 'click' is a completely lawless phenomenon. It cannot be forecast under any circumstances, say researchers.

To test whether it was possible to match couples based on traits such as extraversion, ambition, personality, intelligence, political persuasion or sense of humour, scientists in the US came up with 100 traits by which they rated 163 singles.

They then used hi-tech algorithms to predict who would end up with who and sent the men and women to a speed-dating event to see if their original answers could have predicted the hook-ups at the end of the night.

Not only did they find that their calculations were way off, not one prediction proved right.

Professor Samantha Joel, of the University of Utah, said the team discovered: "We cannot anticipate how much individuals will uniquely desire each other in a speed-dating context with any meaningful level of accuracy.

"I thought that out of more than 100 predictors, we would be able to predict at least some."

But, she said: "I didn't expect we would find zero."

So there you have it. Owners of popular dating sites, which require members to complete in-depth questionnaires for relationship success, have discovered what many artists, writers, poets and painters have been telling us for years: although we might be able to say who is desirable on paper (scientists can predict who will be lucky in love), no computer-based algorithm can unravel the mystery of what unique attributes make one person fall for another.

Chemistry, a particular glance, how someone might test every thread of your patience but you'll still end up going home with them - the complexity of human desire will remain as much of an enigma as the expanding universe for a while longer at least.

As Professor Joel explained: "Attraction for a particular person may be difficult or impossible to predict before two people have met.

"A relationship is more than the sum of its parts. There is a shared experience that happens when you meet someone that can't be predicted beforehand."

There's also a moral somewhere in the findings for today's generation, in a world of Instagram perfect pouts and profiles that read like sales pitches. Just be yourself, either the magic will happen when you meet or it won't.

And perhaps attraction is all the more intense when there is a little mystery involved.

As for the men who think they could have saved the researchers a lot of time and predicted the men's choices from their couch - no they didn't all go home with the woman who had the biggest chest.

Sunday Independent

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