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Future Focus

No to Tinder, yes to DNA matching: The future of romance

Dates are more accessible than ever thanks to apps. But it’s no easier to find a fulfilling relationship. How can tech help?

The way we live is changing fast. Every fortnight in our Future Focus series, supported by Volkswagen, we’ll look at how one aspect of everyday life could change in the coming years. This week: romance. 

MANY LOVE STORIES started under the clock at Clerys on O’Connell Street. For decades, it was the undisputed pre-date meeting point in Dublin until the department store closed down. But like the idea of meeting a date outside Clerys, traditional approaches to matchmaking and dating have changed at a rapid pace in recent years.

Tinder, Bumble and Grindr have shot to fame and made matchmaking even easier to access, but more high-end tech is around the corner – and it’s a good deal more sophisticated than an app showing you who is within 20km of you.

Online dating isn’t new in any sense – was launched in the mid-1990s. And even though these services have been around for a while, a lot of people still aren’t keen to admit they are using – or successfully used – these services to find long-term relationships. 

However, research shows it’s happening. According to one study in the US, more than a third of couples who got married between 2005 and 2012 met online. Since Tinder only released the first version of its app 2012 it can hardly take much credit, but it is also helping people find long-lasting relationships. 

Research by US marketing outfit SimpleTexting suggests that Tinder, Bumble and Grindr might have unfair reputations as merely hook-up apps. Nearly a fourth of people they surveyed had a relationship that lasted over a year with someone they met on a dating app, while another 13 per cent are engaged or got married to people they matched with on apps. 

But those are the success stories – Tinder and its rivals aren’t to everyone’s taste. A survey by mobile data company Ogury shows that although Tinder is popular, a third of people delete the app within a day of downloading it.  

According to Feargal Harrington, who heads up Irish matchmaking service Intro and online dating website A Real Keeper, clients he sees are getting jaded by online dating apps.

“Irish people have no problem going onto Tinder or Plenty of Fish or a fun dating app that’s free because they’re just having the craic. It has become a transient, superficial pastime. It’s like being on Instagram or Facebook, but people are on there and have zero intention of ever wanting it to work out – it’s just the thing to do. 

Tinder has made this business huge and all it has done is driven so many into Intro. They say to us, ‘I’m jaded by this craziness. I’m jaded by the fact people are lying through their teeth about what they are.’ It’s trivial stuff like lying about height.

shutterstock_693865768 Shutterstock / chrisdorney Shutterstock / chrisdorney / chrisdorney

Genome sequencing

Intro uses a client relations management system – built for the Dublin company by a statistician – to track its clients and facilitate the matchmaking. But in the end, seven humans make a decision on matches, not an algorithm.

Harrington says there is only so much tech can do and no matter how smart an algorithm is, differentiating between people using an app for the craic and those who want a relationship is tough. 

“I don’t think there will ever be an algorithm for a dating site that will ever work. If it ever could exist, it would exist by now or eHarmony or one of the multimillion-dollar companies would have bought it up.”

But maybe that’s because eHarmony, OkCupid and are crunching the wrong data. One academic study from 2014 hints that the key to finding a soulmate could lie in our DNA and genome. 

The research by the University of Colorado-Boulder showed that married couples share more genetic similarities than two people plucked at random. So with the cost of genome sequencing dropping at a rapid rate, scientists in a lab may be the cupids of the future. 

But one area of the dating process that tech has true potential to revolutionise in the near future is behaviour-based matchmaking – and it could mean the death of long-winded dating profile questionnaires. 

Right now, questionnaires filled out by users help dating services build a profile to reflect a person’s interests and eventually find them matches. This approach has one key flaw – people can fudge the truth. They might say they’re a gym nut, but when was the last time they really hit the treadmill?

However, the amount of unbiased data on our true behaviours is skyrocketing. Fitbits hold a true reading of how many kilometres people rack up a week, while Netflix can show your favourite movie is actually Shrek 2, not The Shawshank Redemption – which you’ve actually never watched. 

But even DNA sequencing and big data approaches to building dating profiles aren’t nailed on to work, according to Harrington. That’s because in his experience, the idea that everyone has a specific “type” of person simply isn’t true. 

People say, ‘This is what I want, a or eHarmony questionnaire I filled out told me.’ It’s not that simple. We present them with a match and they might think it’s not their type. We say, ‘Your type hasn’t worked so far. Stop going for your type.’ Be openminded. We try to control it too much and build the perfect person – there’s no such thing.

shutterstock_413929888 Shutterstock / Yuganov Konstantin Shutterstock / Yuganov Konstantin / Yuganov Konstantin

Virtual reality dates

Aside from groundbreaking tech developments in dating that are mostly likely decades away, in the immediate future there are some trends to keep an eye out for.

One of the worst kept secrets in tech in recent months is the news that Facebook is testing its own dating app with its employees – which probably doesn’t bode well for the existing market players fighting it out.

But what’s real good news for people using dating apps is the potential for improved safety features in dating apps. This is where tech can really help matchmaking services, according to Harrington.

“Our website A Real Keeper is focused on the two major key issues people had with online dating. One was everyone lying through their teeth about who they are and also lack of safety on dates. So we use Irish tech company Trustev – who are experts in digital verification – and that allows Mary to know that John has verified that he is exactly who he says he is. 

We also have a ‘register the date’ service. So Mary might go out with Tom and she might be too embarrassed to tell her friends. The register the date feature means John knows that Mary has registered their date through the website.

So Harrington isn’t completely sceptical about how much tech can influence dating, and based on the feedback he is hearing from clients, there might be even an appetite for virtual dating. 

He says a lot of people in Ireland isolate themselves and a client in Dublin might ask questions like: “What if I fell in love with someone in Cork? Would I have to move?” They’re unwilling to relocate or meet half way, Harrington says.

Virtual reality (VR) dates could be the answer. A joint report between eHarmony and the Imperial College Business School suggests that based on rate of tech development, VR dates will be the norm by 2040.

The research looked at the progress being made by VR companies and predicted it will be possible for all five human senses to be digitally simulated within 25 years. So who knows? You might still be able embrace your date under the clock at Clerys in future, except it will be in a VR world of 1980s Dublin. 

More: Bye bye credit cards, hello paying by eyeball: The future of spending your money

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