Banned Ad: Algorithms and Machine “Love”

Science hasn’t been sexy since William Masters and Virginia Johnson pioneered research into human physiological responses. Unlike the match-making site eHarmony, they used human subjects rather than big data.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine devotes several chapters to debunking the myth that “data,” however big, is reliable in the scientific sense.

See these recent posts:

Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority, similar to our Federal Trade Commission in requiring truth in advertising, banned an eHarmony advertisement that claimed its scientific studies resulted in long-term relationships. You can read the BBC report by clicking here.

Anyone who knows science realized there are limitations and variables that must be taken into account before any conclusions can be made about significance of findings. In this case, eHarmony used a sample that “was not random or representative because it was taken from a pool of couples who had proactively informed eHarmony of their engagement or marriage after the firm encouraged and incentivised them to do so,” according to the ASA.

In other words, this “study” would receive a failing grade not because of the assembled “big data” but because of the flawed methodology–so flawed, in fact, that a graduate student tinkering with survey respondents in this manner might be reprimanded in any research institution.

The new edition of Interpersonal Divide dedicates much of a chapter to algorithms and love, including this excerpt:

The Pew Research Center reports that 41% of American adults know someone who uses online dating and 29% know someone who has married or entered into a long-term partnership via online dating. What isn’t being said is how couples meet via dating sites that use algorithms much like Netflix and Amazon do. Companies utilize facial recognition technology—you liked this face, so perhaps you might like this similar one, too—to match potential partners. Far from the romantic encounters of yore, with eyes as gateways to souls, machines use algorithms as gateways to profits in a process that is sterile, data-driven, and commercial.

If you are looking for love, the only science you need is in human rather than machine chemistry.


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