So how did you two meet?

The question people typically ask of engaged or otherwise recently committed couples offers quite a range. Now, the odds of the answer “online” are higher than they’ve been before.

Back in 2015, Pew Research reported that 15% of American adults have made use of online dating sites. The percentage rises to 27% for those who fall into the age range of 18 to 24, which marks significant growth over the 10% that were found among that age range in 2013.

There are a number of factors that contribute to that growth. One is the rising adoption of smartphones in that age group and the functionality of online dating via phone. The Tinder approach of swipe right or left is a product of the instant gratification expectation reinforced by mobile technology. The other is the normalization of what was once considered strange or only for the desperate.

The Rise of Online Dating

The first official dating site that most sources identify was Match.com, which was registered in 1995. However, according to A Brief History of Online Dating, the same person who registered Match.com first registered a site called Kiss.com in 1994. Likely, that was a rather forgettable kiss, and no one seems to recall that site any more.

In contrast, Match.com boats, “ we've come a long way since 1995.” While the original site has succeeded in terms of longevity and reach, many others have sprung up with their own twist on using the internet to bring people together for romantic relationships.

The sites have also evolved, as many will now include same-sex matching, which has been a huge boon to those who didn’t fit the traditional matchmaking mold. The Pew Research Center reports that 37% of same-sex couple said they met online. That is more than triple (11%) of heterosexual couples who credit their meeting to online dating.

There are still some gay-specific apps, like Chappy for men and Her for women. However, many general match sites include men seeking men and women seeking women and are no longer exclusively for straight people, including Match.com, OKCupid, eHarmony, and likely many others among the thousands of online dating sites and apps that one can choose from today.

The Limits of Online Dating

With so many options literally at one’s fingertips, the question is: why aren’t more people finding love online today?

The figures Pew Research had in 2015 indicated that the overwhelming majority of couples (88%) give no credit to dating sites for their relationship. So even while its use was growing, it still failed to prove to be a solution for most people.

One of those people is Kevin Teman. His disappointment with his own online dating experience inspired him to build a better solution using artificial intelligence (AI) and voice activation. As he shared in a phone interview, he found himself frustrated with online and estimates that feeling is shared by 80% of people who try it.

“Writing a profile for yourself” is one of the fundamental flaws he found in the dating sites. As everyone is trying to sound appealing and so they end up “all sounding the same.” There’s too much focus on “selling yourself” and acting as “your own PR person,” which inevitably leads to a lot of 'faking it.'”

Aside from the lack of authenticity, he found that the apps were not optimized to assist the singles “get into relationships” but focused on “getting more money out of them to get to the top of lists or send roses, etc.” Frustrated by the experience, he turned to the opposite of the automated match.

Exploring Alternatives and Finding Inspiration

Teman recounted that he subscribed to a human matchmaking service for a year and found it “completely the opposite of dating apps, like night and day.”

While matchmakers have been around for a long time, in the earlier part of the last century, they were disparaged as the antithesis of our modern ideas of romantic love. Matchmakers were portrayed as meddling busybodies who pushed people into relationships that weren’t right for them. (Cue up the song in Fiddler on the Roof).

But, they’re back in vogue now (pun intended), and people are paying top dollar for their services. Teman admitted to having shelled out many thousands himself.

Still, he considered it worth it despite the fact that he remained unmarried in the end. He was impressed by how much time and attention the matchmakers invested in getting to know him, even flying out to Denver to meet with him in person. The service was not limited to just offering him a match suggestion, but following up by helping set up the call, the first date, and getting feedback from both him and the date.

Giving the App a Voice

That combination of Teman’s frustration with dating apps and finding value in human matchmaking service is the story behind AIMM. AIMM stands for Artificially Intelligent Matchmaker, and is designed to be voice interactive, as you can see and hear in the video below:

“Voice tech is on the rise and will continue to grow,” said Dan Drapeau, Head of Technology at Blue Fountain Media, in an interview earlier this year.

Teman would agree, which is why he has been working on the tech involved in voice recognition and considered how it could be adapted to “create a mirror of the human matchmaking service.” The voice component would also distinguish his dating app from the others.

He regards the voice component as important to make the experience of using the app “feel natural, effortless and pleasurable.” Those attributes are what he said defined iPhone programming and incentivize “people to stick around,” something they would need to do to get through the questions that would get the necessary information to match them.

The AI takes includes from the responses, which range from multiple choice and true/false questions to open-ended responses that could be directed based on earlier answers. Unlike the online dating forms, the five to 10 minute sessions for answers are designed to be spread over several days. These answers are also used in the introductions.

May I Present...

After about a week of answering questions, he said, the introductions would begin.

Teman explained that are several levels of information, and that what is offered in profile views extends to photos that show what the person looks like, as well as “picture stories” that depict the person’s affinities and style, as well as the voice recording in response to some of the questions.

While the presentations rely on tech capabilities, some of the features are actually extremely traditional. For example, the setup casts the man as “pursuer,” presenting him with two to four choices. Women are then, much as they are depicted in Jane Austen’s novels, waiting to be asked rather than openly approaching potential dance partners.

I asked him how it works out for same-sex matches, and he admitted it complicates thing for the model, and they just have to arbitrarily select one to be cast in the role of pursuer, who is given the selection of potential matches that then gets whittled down to just one at a time, according to the level of interest indicated.

Then the ”pursued” who agrees to the match on the basis of the information conveyed in the stats, as well as the photos and picture stories, as well as the typical dating identifications, like cat or dog, would indicate they would be ready for the next step. That step would be the phone call, and then all the other potential matches are removed.

The Human Touch

The voice of the AI also plays a role in getting the singles ready for the date. That includes guidance about how to approach it, reassurance not to be nervous, reminders not to get into anything too deep on the first date, etc. After the date it also asks for feedback from both sides, just as human matchmakers do.

Interestingly, though, Teman is not seeking to render human matchmakers obsolete with AIMM. On the contrary, he is seriously looking into bringing some on board for greater insight and possibly more personalized services.

Possibly what he’s envisioning is the same kind of human-machine combination many speak about as the future of work in which AI supplements human capability. Only in this case, it is to be applied to that most human of endeavors -- finding a romantic partner.