Gray Matters

Bots to Date: The Future is Complicated

Updating our relationship status with tech to “it’s complicated;” In the future, bots might replace humans on the dating apps. 

Read an edited transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

Entrepreneur Shane Mac debates the ethics of the technology he’s building — bots and conversational artificial intelligence to flirt on the dating apps,start conversations, and set up dates. Is this tech ok? It’s complicated.  


Laurie Segall: I think what you’re doing is really interesting. I think really the problematic part of it, and the thing you’re struggling with too is…

Shane Mac: Disclosure.

Laurie Segall: Disclosure.

Shane Mac: Yep.

Laurie Segall: Right? And the whole issue behind tech and why we’re- we are where we are right now is like, the lack of transparency.

Shane Mac: Yep.

Laurie Segall: The issue people have with tech is transparency and like, what are we getting? And who are we talking to? Um, you know, so I think, I think that’s kind of at the heart of this, right? Which is like, what’s authentic anymore? And as technology becomes more human, do we even have the right to know?

Shane Mac: Or do we even know what is really our thoughts or what is the computer’s? Like, you use Gmail-

Laurie Segall: And-

Shane Mac: It responds for you.

Laurie Segall: And does it matter? Right?

Shane Mac: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: And so, I think, I think those are the things, but I think we- like, and maybe that’s the thing as you build this should be something you’re thinking about, right? 

Shane Mac: Totally. Disclosure is huge. And you saw google launch Google Duplex, right? And it could call sounding like John Legend, and do things for you.

Laurie Segall: Right.

Shane Mac: And they came out the next day and they said, “It’ll always disclose when it’s a bot. This is an automated assistant for Laurie Segall, I’m calling to make an appointment.” And disclosure I think is a massive one.

Laurie Segall: And so, the issue right now is that it doesn’t.

Shane Mac: Yeah, but it’s interesting when you think of that, like if they’re my lines that have gotten better and it’s helping me communicate, and I can actually edit it after I tap the button and then hit send. Is it my words, or is it the bots?

Laurie Segall: I don’t know.

Shane Mac: Exactly.And then what- yeah. If it’s suggesting something to me-

Laurie Segall: I guess you’re right. So if it’s your words, like do you have to be like, well they were automated? I don’t know.

Shane Mac: If I copied it off the internet because I found it and I wanted to use it and edit a few words of it to make it my own is it an automated response or not?

Laurie Segall: I mean, I guess would the other person feel violated? Like, would I- if I found out that we matched on a dating app — here’s where it would bother me. And I thought about this because of the story I’m going to tell you that I’ve been teasing at like a good reporter. Um, you know, if you had asked me a question that, uh, that required some vulnerability from me-

Shane Mac: Sure.

Laurie Segall: That I like, took a minute to respond, like something- okay, there was, there’s something on the keyboard that’s like, “Tell me something this silly dating app- tell me something about yourself that this silly dating app wouldn’t reveal about you.” I mean, by the way I would never say that. 

Shane Mac: (laughs)

Laurie Segall: But you know, I think if I actually took a minute and I had this real answer, and I was like, “Well, you know, I really um, growing up I was really insecure about X, Y, and Z.” And I took a minute to come out and tell you that, and then I realized later that that was like, something automated that you sent to me, I think I would hate you. I mean, I think I’d be really pissed off about it. And so, then you get a visceral reaction, and this is me as like a tech reporter of many, many years who can understand both sides. Shane Mac: Totally.

Laurie Segall: You know, so I think when you, when the machine even if it is kind of pre programed gets some kind of vulnerability out of you, it feels like you’ve been violated in some way. So, like I mean, by the way, this is such a weird conversation to be having, but I think you kind of have to have it ’cause it’s such a human conversationm and it is totally the future. I don’t care if people think this is crazy,

Shane:  For sure, I’m still nervous to do this interview. There’s a reason we haven’t put it out in the world, and I truly believe that language and automated language has insane benefits to the world in the future. Like, that’s what I like working on this space. I think everyone’s gonna be able to learn from their Alexa and their Goggle Assistant, and do things with it and their own bots. And it’s gonna be much easier than the internet. But there are areas where I worry it could be misused. I think about a guy that might not be a good human getting access to a way to be more vulnerable, ask better questions and get someone to respond. And then completely going on a date that is not, and the lady going on it is completely not who she thought it was gonna be.

Laurie Segall: Yes.

Shane Mac: And that sounds like that could be, you know, risky. But then the other side of that is like, if it’s teaching people to communicate better how do we learn? It’s just language that’s teaching people what to say. Like, how would they know what to say in the first place?

Laurie Segall: Well, so the unintended consequence of this is-

Shane Mac: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Beyond kind of the disclosure of it, and people feeling violated is it could be used by people to just kind of like, be sociopathic, like in some kind of capacity.

Shane Mac: Totally. For sure.

Laurie Segall: And like, you already have people, I would say using the dating apps in ways that are dehumanizing.

Shane Mac: 100%.