He sat opposite me at a popular restaurant, letting his coffee grow cold. In the midst of his second divorce, he wanted to talk about a dating service he’d joined, one that matched couples using algorithms. He hoped the technology would help him find a new soul mate. I hoped he was right. He looked so sad.
I’m old enough to be skeptical about machines that promise to assess human feelings — let alone compatibility with others. We hardly know ourselves, either as individuals or as a species. Why do we imagine we can build algorithms that will penetrate the mystery?
Case in point. We’ve long imagined we live in a 3-dimensional world. We know a 4th exists, but most of us don’t act as if it does. When I cross a busy street, I look right, then left, then down at the curb before I step off. Sometimes, I peer at the sky to determine whether or not the drop that fell on my head is rain or a bird relieving itself. Rarely, do I check my watch to determine if it’s safe to cross in traffic. My point being, I don’t give much thought to time as a dimension. Worse, I give little thought to the other 7 scientist say they have discovered. (Click) How am I to believe an engineer, seated before a computer, can monitor human behavior in a meaningful way?
Of course, techies don’t share my skepticism. They imagine Artificial Intelligence (AI) can tell us all we need to know about ourselves by measuring things. They say they can pull from a pile of hundreds of applicants the best person qualified for a given job. Google researchers go further. They believe they have pushed the data far enough to determine a candidate’s success in a specific corporate culture. (“Where Does the Algorithm See You In 10 Years?” by Jennifer Alsever, Fortune, June 1, 2017, pg. 77.)
They make this claim because they do more than tally answers to questions. They monitor facial expressions, voice inflections, and even the candidate’s use of use of active or passive voice to determine character. Needless to say, they have few qualms about mining data from our social media page, though there are some protections against collecting information about race, religion and sexual preference. (Ibid, pg. 78.).
Faced with such confidence, all I can do is shake my head. “Oh, that thinking people can think so wrongly.” The human mind is an elusive subject, whether or not we acknowledge 7 additional brain dimensions. Let us begin with what we already know: Objective truth isn’t objective. “People can program their biases into algorithms.” (Ibid Pg. 78.)
I wish my friend well as he juggles his quest for love and a divorce. He deserves to be happy and I applaud his optimism. He tells me one woman he’s dating is a psychologist. That bodes well. I suspect she’ll assess their compatibility faster than the algorithm that brought them together.