Recent developments in the online dating space have seen some services experiment with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and facial recognition technology, in a bid to develop new ways to help their users connect.
A number of popular platforms have tested the two areas as part of algorithms that can not only help users create meaningful relationships, but also help improve user identity verification processes.
However, one unique new service is turning the industry’s use of the technology on its head, using AI to develop a personal matchmaking assistant that effectively does all the work for the user.
Bernie is a new app that uses this wave of technology to help select your dates for you, by learning about your preferences and connecting to a number of existing dating platforms to perform its search.
It uses AI and facial recognition software to scan the photos on dating profiles and create a picture of someone’s personality, which is then compared to the user’s own preferences and matched accordingly.
Bernie then extends its service by initiating conversation with matches, tracking the amount of positive response you receive to your messages and reporting back to you, so you can take over the conversation.
The one-of-a-kind app was created by Canadian computer programmer Justin Long as a solution to the growing issue with single people being increasingly time-poor and career-focused – an experience he felt first hand when working long hours.
We recently spoke to Bernie’s founder about his reasons for creating the app, the advantages of using Bernie over manual searching, and where he feels the app will fit in the already saturated online dating market.
You can read the full interview below:
Can you give us a brief description of Bernie and what it does?
Bernie is actually a personal assistant, and what he does is he learns who you find physically attractive, he’ll go onto any of your favourite dating sites – so that could be something like Tinder, Happn or Bumble – and he will then connect with it and try to find you a match.
Once Bernie finds a match, he’ll then start a conversation, determining any mutual interest. He sees the responsiveness of the other person and whether they are responding positively, and then will actually send a notification saying something like: “Hey, I think this person’s really eager to chat, I think they are interested in you, you should probably hop on and take over the conversation.”
Why did you decide to create the app? Was there a specific inspiration behind it?
There’s actually a lot of history behind it. So about a year ago I was actually creating a prototype called Tinderbox, and I did it as more of a research project.
It all started when I was just in a bar and I was getting fed up with all of my friends just swiping away on their phones on all of these dating apps, and I was like: “Guys this is ridiculous, we gotta go out and socialise.”
I made a joke that I could just automate it, and I spent about two months just playing around with different things. At the time I was using facial recognition and it ended up working, and I started to actually get a piece of software to do everything for me. I was like: “Oh my god this is actually doing something”.
I published the code and it got a lot of attention a year ago, but then I shelved it, and I was actually going to walk away from the project, until six months later, people started messaging me more and more. They wanted support and wanted me to do updates, and then finally the BBC called and did an interview with me about it. Then I was like: “Okay, if the BBC is calling me about this, there’s something here, people are really interested in this and really want something that’s more than just traditional online dating.”
And that’s when I actually ventured in and said: “Okay, how do I take this to the next level? How do I make it so that an everyday person can use it and make it easy for them to use?”
So I went the personal assistant route. I thought that with the advances that we’ve made in artificial intelligence, we now have the capability to take it to the next level, where we can develop algorithms that are much more accurate and actually make something that solves a real problem.
I do strongly believe that people are being inundated by all of the noise of online dating – there’s so much out there and it’s no longer like it was 20 years ago when it was just Plenty of Fish, it’s now hundreds of apps. And not only are there hundreds of apps – if you’re a girl, especially, you’ll get messaged so many times and it’s like, how do you manage all this information just coming to your phone and all these notifications going off?
I really just want to solve the problem where Bernie helps you find not just people who you are interested in, but who are interested in you, and use that time to go on a date instead of trying to filter everyone on an app.
Can you explain how Bernie uses artificial intelligence to understand a user’s “type”?
It all started with facial recognition. It’s actually a pretty common algorithm, you can start to do Principal Component Analysis to analyse people’s faces. But we’ve actually been moving into neural-networks and using neural-networks to pick up the other features in people’s photos. There’s a couple of ways you can do this, and we’ve gone down the supervised learning route. The reason we did that is because we wanted to give the users feedback on the photos of other people.
We analyse the photos for everything from lighting to ethnicity to physical fitness, and we use that to add additional information about the person that the user is looking for. We then create what’s called a “decision tree” – so when a photo comes through and Bernie goes and finds another potential match on a dating site, he then goes through this decision-making process.
And we’re designing the decision-making process to reflect exactly how an actual individual will make a decision themselves.
Can you tell us a little about the customisable messages users can create?
This is actually one of the fun parts about Bernie. We offer different messages for users to open up a conversation, and Bernie will start a conversation for you. But if you don’t like what Bernie provides, then you can actually write your own messages.
We have done a lot of creative writing to try and make Bernie as interesting as possible, so he’ll say things like: “Pancakes or waffles?” or “Do you like avocados?” to create some pretty fun conversations, but if you don’t like them you can actually write your own conversations.
And we only let the user do this for up to three messages, and it’s entirely because we do strongly believe there is ethics as well as experience behind messaging someone, and that you can’t keep this going further than three messages, but it is a fun way to open a conversation and it does lead to more interesting conversations.
As a user, how much work do you have to put into Bernie to generate the best results?
Bernie will go to work for you right away and you can keep training him over time. We have a whole section in Bernie that actually allows for training. What you have is a swiping screen that’s very familiar, like some of the other apps where you just say “yes” or “no” to a person.
You basically make 30 swipes a time, and do this up to eight times a day, and we allow you to do a maximum of 10 times in total. If you want to maximise the results you’re getting out of Bernie, basically what you are doing is performing 300 swipes, and that gives Bernie enough information to really learn about your personal preferences.
But you actually don’t even have to train him – you could keep using him without the training.
Do you think today’s singles are more time-poor than they used to be? And if so, do you believe Bernie can help to fix this problem when it comes to dating?
Absolutely. I mean for me, when I actually started this project I was working anywhere from 10 to 12 hours a day, and it really was a tough time just dealing with all these people and all the messages coming in. I can almost guarantee there’s a lot of other people who are kind of thinking the same thing – in fact there are, because we get messages about it all the time.
And the underlying thing about Bernie, and artificial intelligence in general, is we do strongly believe that AI is a good way to improve your daily lifestyle. You no longer have to inundate yourself with all this process-based work. In fact, we want to use AI to bring you back to a more human experience – we want to get you on dates, we want you to find a person. We don’t want you sucked into an app per say and just be constantly in this process.
We strongly believe that that’s where the trend is going and in fact, the founder of Match.com even said himself that the trend is going more towards real offline dates and less online activity.
What stage is Bernie at? Have you tested the platform and how has it performed?
We’re in beta right now, and we’re actually bringing more users in every day. We’ve got a pretty large waiting list that’s now in the four figures. There’s a lot of people that are actually really stoked about this and they all have the same vision as us, which is that they want to really get more out of online dating.
Do you have a target demographic in mind for users of the app?
Bernie is going to work best for someone who is career-orientated, someone who is time-orientated, someone who just wants to say: “I just need help with my time and would rather have my personal assistant help me here”, than try to get everybody to use Bernie.
To be honest, Bernie’s not for everybody, and in fact we don’t want to create a world where everybody has Bernie. It would just be kind of uncanny if everyone had an AI working for them, and it’s not the kind of world we want to create. So we are going after a specific person who is time-orientated, they need help with online dating, and they’re also career-orientated.
When do you plan to launch the app, and what markets will it be available in?
That’ll be happening at the end of March. We still have a few bugs to fix out, and we don’t want to open up Bernie to the world and all of sudden Bernie just starts messaging everybody about pancakes! So every once in a while we do encounter a bug and we want to make sure that Bernie is working smoothly.
In the meantime, we are also finishing development of more advanced algorithms as well, so we’re going to finish that up before we do a full launch of Bernie to the world.
Right now, it’s only for English-speaking countries, and the reason for that is because from an artificial intelligence point of view, you do have to make what are called models that work for a specific language. Right now it’s set up for English. We do want to expand that in the near future, it’s just a matter of really where the demand is.
English is fairly simple to tackle because English is similar across the different countries whether you’re in the US, Canada, the UK or even Australia – similar enough that we can make it work, but we will obviously have to make modifications to make it work in other countries.
Do you think that we can expect more dating services to integrate AI technology into their algorithms in the future?
Absolutely. There are companies trying this already, and the thing is they have a lot of difficulty doing it. And it’s because for AI to work on a platform – lets say you’re Tinder and you have more than 15m users, in order for AI to work on a platform like that, it’s very computationally-heavy and very expensive economically for the company.
To achieve the accuracy that works for over 15m users is also much more difficult. We’re in a little bit more of an advantage where we can start small, we can test small and we can afford to fail. It’s a little easier for us to start introducing this technology at a smaller level, but it is harder for a bigger company like Tinder to try to do something like this.
But as far as I know, some of the bigger Match Group companies have actually already started doing similar algorithms. But they’re just algorithms and we’re more of a personified AI. They’re just using it to do better matchmaking and spam filtering, as well as other parts of the platforms.
Have you raised any funding for the app so far?
We are well capitalised, so it’s something that we’re quite excited about because we can use those resources to make Bernie better.
Do you have any other plans for Bernie that you can share with us?
In the short term, coming March we’re going to be releasing another new feature – and this one I think women will especially appreciate. We are building what we call an offence and defence mode. And what a defence mode is, is when you can tell Bernie: “I don’t want you to reach out to anybody, but I want you to wait for people to reach out to you”.
Then, what Bernie will do is he will actually listen for conversations that are interesting and he will also filter conversations that are just the boring: “Hi”. But it will also filter the borderline sexual harassment, because I strongly believe that after watching some of my female friends go through online dating, they get inundated with so many negative messages, that I just wanted to actually build something that really works for women.
So something that could handle the filtering, for example where all these guys are being like “Hey, be my wife” or “Come over tonight” – just the stuff that most women don’t want to receive.
You can find out more about Bernie by visiting its official site.