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Good Bot, Bad Bot | Part V: Bots that speak the language of love better than you do

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(Courtesy KEYS AI)
(Courtesy KEYS AI)

For the next few weeks, the Endless Thread team will be sharing stories about the rise of bots. How are these pieces of software — which are meant to imitate human behavior and language — influencing our daily lives in sneaky, surprising ways?

This week, we dive into the ways artificial intelligence is changing modern love and  online dating. Trying to find love (or even lock in one date) on dating apps is no easy task, especially with the onslaught of fake accounts and catfishing scams.

But what if you had a digital dating coach installed right in your phone's keyboard — an AI Cyrano de Bergerac or Alex "Hitch" Hitchens — to automatically generate a perfectly crafted, personalized message for every conversation? Not just openers to get the conversation started, but witty, flirty banter to keep it going?

As Endless Thread producer Nora Saks reports, lots of companies are developing apps that use AI-generated communication to optimize users' love lives and connections  — online and off. Nora and co-host Ben Brock Johnson talk to the founder of one such start-up, as well as a dating app researcher, and single friends to probe the pros and cons of having an AI wingman in your pocket.

A sample image of KEYS AI's generative keyboard. Keys AI provides real-time coaching for conversations and "helps you start and keep conversations going in your favorite online dating apps". (Courtesy Keys AI)
A sample image of KEYS AI's generative keyboard. Keys AI provides real-time coaching for conversations and "helps you start and keep conversations going in your favorite online dating apps". (Courtesy Keys AI)

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

Julia: So this was on Tinder.

Nora Saks: So this is my friend Julia.

Julia: I’m Julia. I'm 32-years-old. Single. (Laughs.) And yeah we live in the Northeast. I live in Portland, Maine.

Nora: Julia has been on and off dating apps for the last five years. In and out of relationships and situationships. One of our favorite hobbies is dissecting her online dating adventures and misadventures in a little city that can feel much more like a small town, especially when it comes to love.

Ben Brock Johnson: But back in March, Julia was on Tinder, swiping left, swiping right. When …

Julia: I came across a profile. This person only had two photos, but it's, you know, you could see an attractive man.

Nora: I can confirm. A very attractive man wearing a blue t-shirt, perfectly coiffed hair and beard, toothy smile, you know the one. His photos looked professional. Maybe a little staged.

Julia: They look like they could be on a bios page on a tech startup website.

Ben: Name: Aiden. Age: 30. Location: 10 miles away.

Julia: And then the bio, which on Tinder is called, “About me,” just says, “never know what to say on these” and nothing else.

Nora: Not much to go on, it’s true. But he’s cute. So, she swipes right. They match. And instantly, this hunk — Aiden — sends her a message. It says ...

Julia: And I quote, “God dam, you are beautiful”. No punctuation. And “dam” spelled like a beaver dam.

Nora: D-a-m.

Julia: Yeah.

Nora: Okay. And did you respond? What’d you think? Were you flattered? What happened?

Julia: No, I didn't respond. I wasn't particularly flattered. I think this is like a really empty, vacuous sort of message. What am I supposed to say? Like, I agree. Thank you.

Ben: And like so many Tinder matches that lose their spark before they can ever catch fire … that was the beginning and the end of Julia and her future manchop, Aiden.

Nora: She didn’t think much of it, of him, really until …

Julia: A few days later, I think about like five days later, I was scrolling Instagram and saw a new post from the website reductress.com.

Nora: Reductress is basically like The Onion, but for feminists. Lots of fake articles with satirical headlines. She stumbles across a post, titled:

Julia: “How to get him as hard as a box of Domino Brown Sugar.”

Nora: (Laughs.) Because that stuff is impossible to break.

Julia: Yeah it’s really hard. Beneath it is like a split screen photo of a box of Domino Brown Sugar, and then the same picture of Aiden, that like, stock photo of the guy that messaged me. Or the person, the thing that messaged me, “God dam, you are beautiful.” And, yeah. I thought that was really, really, really funny …

Ben: Hilarious, really, because Tinder Aiden, age 30, 10 miles away was hot alright. And he was also most likely … a bot, alright.

Nora: I know, I know — the word “bot” gets thrown around a lot. Most people use it as kind of a catch — all term to describe the countless chat bots and fake accounts that haunt popular dating apps like Tinder. Hinge. Bumble. You name it. And scam unsuspecting victims with all kinds of rom-cons.

Ben: According to the Federal Trade Commission, the agency that protects consumers, in the last five years, people have reported losing more than 1 billion dollars to romance scams. That is more than any other fraud category the FTC tracks.

Nora: And there are countless how-to articles. How to spot a fake dating profile. How to avoid getting catfished. Or money-muled.

Ben: Now, we can’t know for sure if Aiden truly was a bot. Or a scammer. Or what his, or its intentions really were, because luckily, Julia didn’t take the bait and go on that date.

Julia: Maybe I think there was a little bit of me that felt sort of proud of myself that I did like, like I wasn't, I don't know, susceptible to that lame and fake of a message. That I was able to kind of sniff it out and just be like, “Yeah, no, I'm not going to respond to that.”

Ben: So we all know there are lots of fake accounts, interacting with real people on dating apps.

Nora: But what Julia — and most of the other savvy online daters we spoke with — didn't seem to be aware of, is that there’s a whole other kind of bot slinking its way into our love lives.

Ben: A new family of bot, that I like to think of as an AI Cyrano de Bergerac.

Nora: Ah yes, Cyrano. The classic story of that ugly guy, who wrote love letters to his beautiful lady cousin, on behalf of that other guy, the gorgeous one, who was horrible at speaking? And if I remember correctly, they were both in love with the cousin? Because it was 17th-century France or something?

Ben: (Laughs.) Of course. And trust me, that story doesn’t work out well, for anyone. But instead of penning romantic letters with a quill by candlelight and getting into sword fights, this new kind of bot lives in your smart phone’s keyboard. And it can ghostwrite banter with all your e-crushes. 24-7. Anticipating, and automating, the language of love.

[Cyrano trailer audio: "I am a poet. My words upon your lips."] 

Ben: I’m Ben “never know what to say on these” Johnson.

Nora: I’m Nora “God dam you’re beautiful” Saks.

Ben: And you’re listening to Endless Thread, coming at you from WBUR — Boston’s NPR station.

Nora: Next up in our series Good Bot, Bad Bot: Cyrano de BOT-gerac.

Nora: Okay, so we're on Tinder. And what are we seeing here?

Taylor Margot: We're looking at a list of matches.

Nora: And this is from an account you created, I’m assuming.

Taylor: Correct, this is from an account I created. Allow me to show you the profile. Here’s rock climbing, then a puppy, then more pictures in front of the ocean.

Nora: But that's not actually you.

Taylor: That's not actually me. So this is our 35 millennial demographic user.

Nora: That actually is Taylor Margot. He is actually 35. And he is actually giving us a virtual tour of a new app he created called Keys AI.

Taylor: I'm Taylor Margot. I’m the CEO of Keys, and I'm in Missoula, Montana.

Ben: Keys is an AI coach for dating and relationships. An intent-based communication assistant. A wingman for life, according to Taylor.

Nora: The product works this way. Say you match with someone on a dating app. You want to break the ice, but aren't sure how. Keys can suggest personalized openers to get the conversation started. And banter to keep it going.

Ben: In this instance — Keys generated — and Taylor sent this one:

Taylor: What's something that no one's complimented you on before that you wish somebody would?

Nora: Now, Cheyenne, his match responds, “LOL, I like the question. But would never ask for a compliment.”

Taylor: You could, what's common, is sit here and wrack your brain and spend a whole ton of effort and second guess yourself constantly. Or …

Ben: Taylor screenshots the convo, opens Keys — which is like a keyboard layer. Keys analyzes it, generates more suggestions on what to say next.

Nora: Okay, it says optimizing responses. What do we got now?

Taylor: Alright, we got, “Well, I think you're very beautiful. And I'm sure there are plenty of things people haven't said to you that you wish they would. For example, I bet you have a great sense of humor that not many people get to see.” That is amazing. So we're going to send that one …

Ben: The whole point of Keys, Taylor says, is to help you keep the conversation going long enough to get the outcome you want. Which is probably a date.

Taylor: What we really do is help people build connection. That's the total goal. It's not about making people into better communicators. It's about making them better connectors.

Nora: Building connection is something that’s really important to Taylor. He might live in Big Sky country now, but he’s from Silicon Valley. And in his youth, he was living his dream, working at a big fancy law firm in the Bay area, giving advice to tech pioneers. And dating.

Taylor: I was on the dating apps for the better part of a decade, the better part of my twenties.

Ben: For the record, Taylor is married now, and has a very, young, newborn baby. He met his wife not online, but IRL, at a climbing gym in San Francisco.

I am also married. And I met my wife in narrative nonfiction, my senior year of college.

Nora: Aww!

Ben: I’ve never been on the apps.

Nora: Well, while we’re at it, I have done time on the apps.

Ben: Done time?

Nora: That’s what it feels like.

Ben: Was it hard time? It sounds like it was hard time.

Nora: It was very hard time. That’s part of why I’m not on them anymore. And I hope never to return.

Ben: But Taylor clearly remembers all those years he was single. And the dating apps —

Taylor: As the source of a loneliness that really in a lot of ways became a personal epidemic and wove out throughout my life.

Nora: Work was an antidote. He loved connecting with his clients, building relationships, trying to solve their problems. But a few years ago, he had a crisis of faith. One very bad day when it became painfully clear his mentors at the law firm, the people he looked up to, and wanted to be someday …

Taylor: Didn't value communication and connection the way I did and kind of thought it was, like, almost unnecessary. Just like a commodity.

Ben: So, Taylor quit his job. Sent twenty thousand dollars to Ukraine, gets back a long string of code. Which after some trial and error, became the product and the startup we see here today.

Nora: Keys can do more than just analyzing screenshots of your conversations. It can also generate messages based on your intent.

Taylor: So, we just opened Hinge…

Nora: During our product demo, Jessica’s profile pops up. It says:

Taylor: Together we could cook dinner and listen to vinyls while accidentally drinking too much wine.

Nora: Now, all we have to do is select an “intent”. On the keyboard, there are dozens to choose from. Like, amusing, sweet, curious, romantic. Goofball. And even travel, dog, nature. I requested flirty.

Taylor: Flirty. My friends keep telling me there's someone I should get to know on this app. They may be right about you.

Nora: Eh.

Taylor: You seem like you're high maintenance, but low maintenance at the same time. Any better?

Nora: (Laughs.) No, thank you. That's an insult. Not flirty.

Taylor: I'm not sure, here's another one: I'm not sure if you’re flirting with me. But you're flirting with me.

Nora: I don't get any of these. Do you get them?

Taylor: I do get them. I think you need to spend more time on dating apps, Nora.

Nora: Keys is built on Open AI’s GPT-3 technology, which Taylor tells me, is basically a platform layer. I have no idea what that means, but I do know it’s the same technology behind a lot of the bots we’ve explored in this series.

Ben: Yeah, and they’re all Generative AI — which is basically a class of artificial intelligence that uses “unsupervised” learning algorithms to create its own new content — images, video, audio, code, text. In this case, flirty messages, pick-up lines and probing questions.

Nora: But a bot isn’t born knowing how to chat, or flirt. You have to teach it. Give it a dataset to learn from. Taylor says by now, almost one year from launch, Keys currently has around 15,000 monthly active users. On average, those users send 4 to 8 AI-generated messages per conversation, romantic or not. Which adds up to about one million “touchpoints” per month.

Taylor: Every time people interact with the product, every time people take screenshots, we're learning about how they communicate, what their likes and dislikes are. But if you trace the algorithm all the way back, it's just a bunch of home crafted messages by Taylor and some other dating professionals.

Nora: So Taylor and his team, plus all fifteen thousand or so Keys users, are constantly training the algorithm. And — in turn — the AI is coaching them on how to level up their dating game. Or conversation game, in general, because you can also use Keys for non-romance purposes, in iMessage, or wherever you text.

Ben: But as we witnessed in real time during Taylor’s Keys demo — Keys’ research and development involves real people. Real humans looking for love, connection, or maybe just to get some …. (coughs.) You know what I mean?

Taylor: I have fake accounts on basically every dating app out there. And that's a necessary step in product development if we're going to build the product that really delivers results. We eat our own dogfood. So I have, yes, I have a variety of genders, ages, you name it, we have it.

Ben: Wow. That's tricky, right? Like, first, I was going to ask, how does your wife feel about that? But now I'm like, oh, this is a whole other kind of level of kind-of ethical challenge. Right? How do you think of that piece of it? Like, are there people out there kind of wasting their time interacting with your accounts in order to help you build a better product?

Taylor: Wasting time, that's an interesting way to put it. From our standpoint. And I hope that this is how it comes across as having a thoughtful conversation that isn't harmful, isn't hurtful, doesn't ever put them down, if anything, asks them questions about themselves that maybe they haven't been asked before, or had the opportunity to see in somebody else. Maybe they learn something about the person that they really are looking for or how they want to find somebody that does communicate.

Ben: No, I get that, I guess, like, if it were me, I would be kind of pissed if I was like, if I went down the road and had, like, this really long, like, successfully connecting conversation with what I thought was a person (laughs.) And then they ended up being like, just research for a product, if that makes sense.

Taylor: Well, you know, you're actually you're you're breaking my brain here because …on a matter of scale, the number of conversations we have versus the number of conversations an individual on a dating app is pretty insignificant. But, from a moral perspective, I'm not sure that matters. And I think it would be a worthwhile thing for us to explore that when we do have these conversations where we are developing the product that we can conclude those conversations with like a tell-all. Like an FYI. Like you deserve to know that this is part of the product development process for Keys. And that you are an unwilling participant. And if there's any feedback you have, we'd love to hear it.

Nora: What does Maxine, your wife, think about this venture and that like, that you’re spending a lot of time on apps interacting with profiles?

Taylor: My wife loves KEYS, loves using it with her own Mom over text who lives in New York, and hates that I have fake profiles on dating apps.

Nora: So the R and D is one of the ethical quandaries we stumbled upon during our interview with Taylor. But there’s another one that Drew, a “dating consultant 4 men” landed on when reviewing KEYS AI on TikTok.

[TikTok audio:

@itsme.urbrother: I think this could really waste women’s time. And get them out on dates with guys that they think are really witty and funny and clever but they’re actually not. They were just using this bot to do the talking. But I also think it could maybe help guys, so I don’t know …]

Ben: More on the pros and cons and cringes to having your own personal 21st-century AI Cyrano de Bot-gerac in your pocket, at your beck and call, in a minute.

[SPONSOR BREAK]

Nora: If you were going to put like one snazzy little bio that captures you right now, what would it be?

Dr. Katy Coduto: That is such a great question, especially because I feel like part of me thinks it would be so funny to put like I am a dating app researcher and to see what people would say because I think that would be, right, such a hook. But also maybe scary to some people …

Ben: This is Dr. Katy Coduto. A professor of media science in Boston University’s College of Communication. And yes, a dating app researcher.

Nora: I think you told me on the phone that … are you engaged?

Katy: I am.

Nora: OK. And how did you meet your partner?

Katy: Not on a dating app. (Laughs.) We met because we worked together while I was in grad school. I bartended on the side and so we met very organically without ever having a dating app involved.

Nora: And do you use dating apps for any reason?

Katy: No.

Nora: In spite of the way she met her fiance, Katy is an expert in online dating. Well, an academic expert, at least.

Ben: Dr. Coduto, I love the title of your research papers.

Katy: Thank you.

Ben: "Swiping for trouble, problematic dating application use among psycho socially distraught individuals and the paths to negative outcomes."

Katy: Mmhm.

Ben: Wow. And then also: "Online daters sexually explicit media consumption and imagined interactions." Yeah let’s just talk about all that stuff …

Nora: Katy told us she got initially interested in online dating because her friends were constantly on the apps. Not finding success. And yet, they just kept coming back for more. She wanted to understand why.

Ben: And while she might not use them herself, between the broad surveys and in — depth interviews she conducts, Katy estimates that in the six years she’s been studying the habits, behaviors, and experiences of online daters, she’s researched over a thousand individuals.

Ben: When we say the words Tinder bot, or bots and dating apps, what does that make you think of?

Katy: Yeah. So the first thing I think of are fake profiles. You know someone who’s not who they say they are.

Nora: Most of her research subjects report having run into at least a handful. But get this: the week we contacted Katy for an interview was the very same week a student told her about this other breed of bot — the kind that can ghost write your messages for you. Which at first, didn’t sit well.

Katy: Your ideal partner is someone who knows how to communicate with you. And if you can't write a message to them or if you're relying on a third party to write messages that are going to build the relationship, I think once you meet in person, every illusion is going to fall apart. Like I keep thinking about the person who's receiving these kind of prewritten messages. What happens when they figure that out? Because I feel like there's going to be a point where you figure it out.

Ben: Katy says in general, she wants app users to find whatever it is they’re looking for. If that’s just a casual hookup — Katy says she could see how an AI helper could be handy.

Katy: But I also think part of the whole appeal of dating apps for relationship purposes is meeting that real person and finding that real connection. And so, me personally, I think having any kind of AI, you know, it kind of cheapens that experience.

Nora: Some Keys users would beg to differ, at least in their Apple app reviews.

[Keys AI Apple store reviews, read by WBUR producers:

“A perfect wingman! Have you ever seen the movie Hitch with Will Smith? This app is like the virtual manifestation of that. Have you ever wondered what is a good opener to say to someone?”

“This app takes out a lot of the guesswork and time crafting messages. You still are expressing what you want to say without the anxiety or spent time.”

“This is probably the future. When used properly it’s so easy to book dates it’s ridiculous. I booked 3 dates this week and could have done more but ran out of free nights.”]

Nora: Taylor Margot, the CEO of Keys AI, told us that they’ve received “buckets” of anecdotes and positive user reviews like this. Now when it comes to the date success rate, the company doesn’t really track that, for privacy reasons. What is clear is that the longer someone uses Keys to communicate, the more they use it. Which is a win, for the start-up.

Ben: Okay that’s how some users feel … but what about the people it’s used on?

Taylor: We have lots of examples of users telling us stories about going on first dates where they reveal Keys and then the person at first is outraged and says, “Wait a second, show me it.” And then they go download it. (Laughs.)

Nora: In the video you’re about to hear, two people are on a real first date, there’s also a dog running around in the background. The guy has just disclosed to his date that he used Keys to message with her and he’s explaining how the bot works.

[Reveal video audio:

Woman: That’s exactly what you sent me.

Man: Shut up! This right here, that line?

Woman: Yes! Yes.

Man: Show me on your phone. Oh my God.

Woman: Uh, here we are.

Man: Holy s***.

Woman: Oh my god.

Man: Blow my mind.

Woman: This is disgusting …]

Ben: I somehow doubt that that woman was converted into a Keys customer.

Nora: Yeah, but at least that guy did eventually reveal to her that he had used AI.

Ben: But there’s no guarantee that someone would reveal that.

Taylor: A swath of our users are not comfortable sharing that they're using Keys with their dates. And I want to change that. I want Keys to be something that you are proud to share with whoever you're dating the day you start talking to them, because it shows that you care about how you communicate and you want to be a better communicator. That you are doing work on yourself to be more authentic, to be more curious, to be more empathetic. And if you need a coach to do that, I'm willing to share it. And not only that, will you use it with me? Because I think we'll have a better conversation and get to know each other better.

Nora: Taylor makes a strong case. But Ben was still stuck on the idea that thanks to a silver-tongued bot, Keys users are misrepresenting who they are. At least, initially.

Ben: You know, I keep going back to the Cyrano de Bergerac story, I guess, when I'm thinking about Keys. And this idea that, you know, you've got a coach, but that coach in some ways is putting words in your mouth …

Nora: Taylor, however, saw it in a different light.

Taylor: By giving people an example of how to do things differently, a different way to communicate, a better way to communicate, we're teaching them phrases and postures and intents and methods and tools that they can use in their own lives. Now, when the rubber meets the road and they show up on that date and maybe they're not the same communicator, ala Cyrano de Bergerac, I think that's a great outcome. I think it's a fantastic outcome. I think it's the right outcome, maybe if those people don't gel yet. Because they aren't gelling in person. But what needed to happen was to get those people to in-person.

Ben: Taylor is pretty starry-eyed about the power of generative AI. And as the founder and face of an AI start-up, that’s his job. It’s his bottom line.

Nora: But as we continued to probe the proliferation of AI dating coaches and what it means for modern love with Professor Katy Coduto, she started to come around. And actually, so did Ben.

Ben: I guess I'm like, now thinking about it in a different way, right? Which is sort of like we actually all kind of suck at this. Where we're trying to get is in person, like we're trying to get that date. And so like for me, it's like, if in the path of getting to see if we actually have real chemistry, like you employ the help of a machine to make sure that you don't suck at like I would not want people to judge my communication abilities by my electronic interactions only.

Nora: Katy agreed that it was important to examine both sides. Sure, she could easily imagine many folks she’d interviewed who would not have appreciated being on the receiving end of a match using AI to boost their text game. But there were many others she had studied who might really benefit from an aid like KEYS.

Katy: I do think that could be great for someone with social anxiety who, you know, it's not to say they are a terrible communicator, especially in person, but maybe having something that can help you think through, well, what do I say? Or what's the best way to say this? I could see that for that particular group being extremely useful. I think a lot of it comes down to if you ever reveal that you're using this kind of tool to a partner or not. That's what I keep thinking about, is do you reveal that? And if you do, how do you do it and when do you do it?

Nora: Katy predicts that AI is only going to become more integrated in our love lives. And in our lives. So it needs to become part of that process of what information you choose to disclose to your partner, and when.

Katy: You know, and if you can tell a partner that you're socially anxious, right, or you have these kind of discomforts —

Ben: Which you should eventually, in my mind at least.

Katy: Exactly. Yes, absolutely. Yes, it’s so critical, right, for achieving intimacy and kind of having that openness of communication. So if you're going to do that, to be able to then say, just so you know, like I have this and this tool helped me, I don't think that that's going to be the end of the world.

Ben: Keys AI is just one of many bots serving up anticipatory, or augmented, communication.

Taylor: Companies like mine, there's a lot of them right now, all using generative AI in ways that is going to lower the difficulty level of like everyday communications. We're doing it in dating.

Nora: Keys AI is funded by venture capital, and according to their website, a few angel investors too, including Olympic speed skater Apollo Ohno.

Taylor: We've raised $3 million to date and are getting ready for probably talking to some more folk here soon.

Ben: Keys is in that interesting startup zone where it’s clearly identified a need in the marketplace … the meet marketplace. But at the same time, dating apps are already starting to do autocomplete text suggestions for their users. My theory is that huge companies like Match Group — which by the way, owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, Match.com, and others — will try to scoop up these kinds of start ups and AI products and incorporate them right into the dating app. So it just becomes normalized.

Nora: Taylor sees his company’s real competitors — not as the dating app behemoths that might try to swallow him up — but as the huge mindfulness and therapy apps that coach customers on how to also have better connections and more fulfilling relationships. Like Betterhelp and TalkSpace.

[TalkSpace advertisement audio: Talkspace. Therapy for all.]

Taylor: They're just doing it with real humans, and we're going to use an AI to scale it to every person in the world, really the AI coach for every relationship in the world.

Ben: A lot has changed since Match.com — the first online dating site — came on the scene in 1995. Back then, lots of people thought online dating was creepy. Now, almost three decades later, online dating is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s the most popular way to meet someone.

Nora: So where is this all headed? What even is love and dating, now that we have AI Cyrano's whispering sweet nothings into our keyboard? If you ask Taylor, we’re all marching towards a frontier full of assisted, augmented communication. Where the lines are going to blur even further and faster.

Taylor: I see it heading in a direction where we have, it's going to sound a little metaverse-y, but profiles of ourselves that do a lot of interacting on behalf of each other, sort of wandering, and then once things reach a certain point, bubble up to the surface.

Nora: Like — once your bots are vibing, you get a notification that you should actually meet. In person.

Taylor: I don't love that future. I really don't. I prefer something where we are today in the middle, which is sort of like autopilot in a Tesla where you're sitting in the driver's seat and your hands aren’t on the wheel, but you're there and you're the human in the loop.

Ben: I mean autopilot in Teslas has not worked out all that well. I’m still worried that if this keeps up, we’re just gonna get to a place where you know, everyone is just leaning so hard on the bots. And the end result is fewer and fewer humans actually interacting with each other.

Ben: I feel like it's just going to be haptic sex suits, and people are just going to, like, match, you're going to match with someone, and then you’re not even going to go and meet them. You're just going to be in your haptic suit and you'll engage with each other and make out with each other that way.

Nora: Googling “haptic suit” …

Ben: That’s what I think it's going to be. I honestly, if people are like, nobody's going to leave their house anymore and this is my terrible boring dystopia.

Katy: Yeah, that really escalated … (Laughs.)

Nora: For the record, I did google haptic suit, and, they’re just those full body VR onesies — with the headset, and all the sensors all over your bod. (Laughs.) Ben, you know what I’m talking about.

Ben: Yes, I do.

Nora: As for Ben’s deep terrible dark dystopia, Professor Katy Coduto wasn’t totally buying into it.

Katy: There are so many people who despite all the other things they use their phones for, their computers for, I will still get people on surveys who are like I can’t believe that anyone would ever use this. So I think you’ll still have that group of holdouts who won't use dating apps, much less haptic sex suits …

Nora: Remember Julia, our friend and real live human online dater? Julia, of Julia, and …

Julia: “God dam, you are beautiful.”

Nora: Aiden? Well, when I talked to her about this kind of dating bot — not the Aiden kind, but the AI dating coach Cyrano kind — she was surprisingly, some might say alarmingly, sanguine.

Julia: Maybe we are in a direction of like technology will just sort of figure this out for us. And, you know, that could be good. Certainly, I guess, would save me some time and headache but …

Nora: (Laughs.)

Julia: I don’t know.

Nora: Julia says if she ever did find out that a prospective date had used an AI coach like Keys in the process — it wouldn't be an automatic deal breaker. The bigger issue she encounters on the dating apps right now is that people just want to be pen pals and only talk online.

Julia: I would rather somebody match with me using AI and then talk with me as themselves and then meet with me in person, than match with me as themselves and talk to me as themselves in perpetuity over the app and never ever ask me out.

Ben: So this whole new generation of dating bot we just heard about recruits uses artificial intelligence to help us humans get out of our own way. Improve our batting average so to speak, at least in the game of love.

Nora: And make no mistake, it is a game. But what about the bots that are actually just like us? That think and act human? Could you tell the difference?

Ben: There's a guy in there …

Dean Russell: Yeah.

Ben: … with a robot that's taking sodas out of a refrigerator. I just saw that.

Nora: That's next week, in the final episode of our series Good Bot, Bad Bot.

[CREDITS]

Nora: Endless Thread is a production of WBUR in Boston.

Ben: Do you want to see photos of Tinder bot man chop Aiden? You can find them among many other things at wbur.org/endlessthread.

Nora: This episode was written, reported, and produced by me, Nora Saks.

Ben: Woo! With help from me, Ben Brock Johnson.

Nora: A lot of help. Our very own Cyrano here. Mix and sound design by Emily Jankowski and Paul Vaitkus. Our web producer is Megan Cattel. The rest of our team is Amory Sivertson, Dean Russell, Quincy Walters, Grace Tatter, and Matt Reed.

Ben: Endless Thread is a show about the blurred lines between digital communities and haptic sex suits.

Nora: If you’ve got an untold history, an unsolved mystery, or a wild story from the internet that you want us to tell, hit us up. Email Endless Thread at WBUR dot ORG.

Nora Saks Producer
Nora Saks is a producer with WBUR's podcast team. 

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