How Dating will soon be like Wall Street

It's widely accepted that your relationship is the single greatest component affecting your 'Life Satisfaction'(1). If that's true, anything aiding the discovery of a successful partner would be very advantageous in your pursuit of happiness.

Dramatic changes in technology and analytics are allowing the development of sophisticated methods for finding the right partner, but how will it affect the way we pair up a society?

What will a 21st century romance - love in the digital age - look like?

Wall Street: The Dangerous Side of Analytics

In the early 1970s, for the first time ever, computers were being utilized to speed up and organize the process of stock trading. At that time, they were still overseen by a broker who analyzed trades before they were made. By 2009 algorithmic, or 'blackbox trading', made up 70% of all stock trading in the US (2) and was completely independent of brokers.

Blackbox trading was initially used to monitor markets more quickly than brokers were capable, and to make faster trades based on specified thresholds. Problems began once this process of assisting the market, actually became the market. If over 70% of trades are made by computers monitoring the market, then they are no longer simply 'monitoring' the market; they ARE the market. Algorithmic programs, observing the behavior of other algorithmic programs, respond with thousands of trades per second. What could go wrong? 

This algorithmic takeover seems harmless at first; computers do things better than us. They are more organized, objective and efficient. However, this cold efficiency comes at a price. These trades aren't just random decimals or fractions of corporate capital. These are the lives of ordinary people. These are retirement funds, college funds, nest eggs, pensions. They are the lifeblood of businesses, big and small. These trading programs are making thousands of decisions in milliseconds that could affect the lives of millions, potentially billions of people.

In May 2010, an event now known as the 'flash crash', a trillion dollars of these funds vanished from the market due to the negligence of a rogue trading program, only to be restored within 36 minutes. The flash crash is a stern lesson on the dangers of computer automation and analysis. 

So how is algorithmic trading like dating?

There are over 54M single people in the US alone. Out of that 54M, over 49M have tried online dating (3). Online dating provides upfront data about individuals, allowing you to know something about someone before even talking with them. The benefit of this is the ability to filter out and center in on the groups of people you would be more interested in, increasing the likelihood of romantic compatibility. Many of these sites will have you provide answers to questions that help narrow down the list of people most 'compatible' to you.

This will only grow more sophisticated as our ability to organize and analyze large datasets advances, and pools of information begin to overlap or converge. Imagine if Google, Facebook, Netflix and Spotify (GoobookNetify?) teamed up to create a dating app based on your browsing history, social network, movie, TV and music preferences. You could imagine a pool of potential dating candidates based on this criteria would be highly compatible. 

The big problem here, just as with algorithmic trading, is revealed at the point where sophisticated programs cease to be observing and recommending individuals (or trades) and begin to actually dictate the 'market' of single individuals. Datasets with so much depth in your personal activities and preferences controlled by complex algorithms, might lead you to believe the program understands your 'compatibility' better than you do.

If GoobookNetify recommends an individual to you with a 99% compatibility, you might be tempted to believe that this person has to be the person for you.

And why not? Dating in the past was mostly based around randomly bumping into someone in your small social network and attempting to build off mutual interests and goals. It makes much more sense to add very specific personal data and fancy algorithms to narrow it down from a large group. 

However, the point at which a program designed to monitor a market (or dating pool) and make suggestions becomes the actual catalyst or central force of change in the market, is the sacrifice of free will for convenience and efficiency. Will you select an individual because of your emotional and physical interest or will you choose them because a highly advanced program 'knows' they are the likeliest candidate for compatibility and longevity? 

This question of sacrificing our human tendency to live by emotion and impulse for the greater progress of efficiency and accuracy, will appear more and more as technology advances rapidly before us and shapes the very architecture of our culture and society.

Ultimately, we will have to make the choice if we value logic and optimization over the sloppy and often foolish emotional instincts that are central to our human nature.