“VEERA, THE floor is yours.” Edwin, the manager of her team, smiled encouragingly across the table.
The smile was mostly for show, she knew, because he’d made perfectly clear he had precious little confidence in her idea. However, despite his reservations—which he’d enumerated several times for her over coffee during the course of the previous week—his team had a quota of developer pitches to make during the quarter, and at this late date he had no other options.
She opened her laptop and connected the display cable. The wall at the end of the conference room came to life, showing the first slide of her presentation. The hot-pink glow from the monitor flooded the room, basking all in attendance in the reflected glory of her cupid-decorated title slide.
Veera glanced around the room and immediately regretted not asking one of the web designers for advice on her color palette. She cleared her throat nervously.
“Thank you, Edwin.” Her voice sounded small. She wasn’t confident it had even traveled to the end of the suddenly miles-long conference table.
Focus, Veera. Find your voice.
“Artificial intelligence has never been applied to relationship discovery,” she began, using the company’s preferred term for online dating. “Today I’d like to present a vision for how AI can be a significant differentiator for our service. I call it the ‘epistemology engine.’ Our current data-mining processes work very well, but like all post hoc analytics, they allow only future optimization based on past performance. What they cannot do is dynamically adapt the discovery model in real time. In short, they do a great job of helping the next customer, but they can do little to help the current one.”
Veera looked out across a conference room full of skeptical expressions. She swallowed hard and tried to remember to breathe.
“Today, I’d like to introduce you to the future of relationship discovery. Artificial intelligence that learns and adapts, accompanying our customers through their daily online lives, becoming a trusted friend as much as a matchmaker.” She paused to look around the room. This was the moment she’d practiced for a full sleepless week. “I’d like you to meet Archer.”
“MRS. SCHWARTZMANN, you really should stop putting melon rinds down the garbage disposal. It can’t handle them.”
“I know, I know,” she replied, holding her hands up as if yielding the responsibility for her kitchen habits to a higher power. “You are so nice to come help an old woman.”
“I’m just doing my job.” Drew smiled, incapable of being angry at Mrs. Schwartzmann. “Besides, it’s always fun to try to guess what’s happened when you call.”
“Ach,” Mrs. Schwartzmann grunted, eyes heavenward. “Such an old building. No wonder things go wrong. They should take better care.”
“The building is five years old,” Drew said, as he always did. “It was brand-new when you moved into it. I helped you with your boxes, remember?”
“Ach,” Mrs. Schwartzmann said again. “The vapors from the paint nearly killed me that night. You would think they would let it air for a minute before putting an old woman here to sleep.”
“We live in a world fraught with risk,” Drew offered solemnly, marveling at her ability to come up with an endless supply of new complaints. For a woman who rarely left her apartment, she was relentlessly inventive when it came to enumerating the wrongs perpetrated against her by the shadowy “they.”
Mrs. Schwartzmann nodded gravely, clearly heartened to have the young man’s sympathy.
“There, I think that’s got it,” Drew said, pulling the last of the half-shredded melon rinds from the disposal. He turned the water on and flipped the switch. The unit hummed quietly.
“Thank you, thank you,” sang Mrs. Schwartzmann. She reached up and grabbed him by the cheeks, then kissed each one. She did this every time, and every time he felt like a precocious grandchild. “Now, I make us some tea, and you tell me about last night. Sit.”
The prospect of hashing over the catastrophe of last night’s date with Mrs. Schwartzmann—a woman more than three times his age—would have given most men pause, but Drew was quite accustomed to it by now. He found her commiseration, and often her advice, heartening.
“I assume you heard how it ended?” he asked as she put the kettle on.
She sat, the small square kitchen table between them. “Only that she broke all your furniture,” she said mildly as she smoothed the shiny plastic tablecloth with her gnarled hands.
“It was just the coffee table,” Drew replied, “but yes, she reduced it to kindling.”
“This woman does not sound like such a very nice woman,” Mrs. Schwartzmann opined solemnly.
“No, she didn’t turn out to be a very nice woman.”
She put her hand on his. “I am sure she seemed much nicer when you met her. A woman like that waits until she gets a man on her hook, and then poof! A she-monster.”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” Drew said shrugging. “I hadn’t met her before our date.”
Mrs. Schwartzmann tucked her lips in silent judgment, as if Drew had admitted to a gambling habit. She nodded. “Oh, I see. She was one of the women you meet on the computer. How can you tell, when you only know her by what she type-type-types. Is it so hard to type things that are not true? It is not so hard.”
Drew chuckled grimly. “If I had asked whether she was insane and she said no, then I would say she lied. But I didn’t ask. According to the dating site, we were supposed to be a good match.”
Mrs. Schwartzmann’s brows drew into a solid black line of dark implication. “The computer machine tells you to date an insane crazy woman… and you? You do it.” She shook her head slowly, but her expression softened into one of pity.
Drew was spared further aspersions on his dating strategy by the tea kettle beginning its low, trainlike whistle. Mrs. Schwartzmann pushed herself to a standing position and began fussing with tea.
“She didn’t seem crazy, at least at first,” he said rather lamely. “We were into a lot of the same things.”
“Things like breaking the furniture?” Mrs. Schwartzmann asked lightly without turning from the counter where she was arranging teacups on saucers.
“Very funny. We listened to the same kinds of music and had read a lot of the same books, and our political views were pretty much identical. We liked a lot of the same things—we should have been completely compatible.”
Mrs. Schwartzmann gently placed the cups and saucers on the table. “If the things you like make you completely compatible with a crazy woman, then maybe you are liking the wrong things.” She shrugged, which was her way of conveying certainty in her opinion. She turned back to pick up the teapot.
“You don’t understand how online dating works,” Drew said, taking it upon himself once more to acquaint Mrs. Schwartzmann with the modern world. “You tell the computer about yourself, and then it finds people that you are compatible with. It’s how everyone dates now.”
“If that’s how everyone dates, I should have stock in the coffee table company.” She set the enormous teapot between them and took her seat.
“The coffee table was an accident,” Drew said. “Mostly. I think.”
“CONVERSATIONAL REFERENCES to sports.” Tap-tap-tap. “Zero. Mentions of history of mental illness in the family, also zero. Hmm.” Rapid-fire clicks and taps on the keyboard echoed through the strenuously clean kitchen. “Number of attempts to pay the dinner check, and height of heels in inches, and number of visible piercings, and done.”
Fox sat back and picked up his coffee mug for a long, meditative sip before scrolling down to see the final score at the bottom of his spreadsheet. The number in the last cell wasn’t what he was expecting.
A chat window titled Video Call from Chad popped open, covering the spreadsheet. He tapped the Accept button.
“Hey, buddy,” Chad said cheerfully. Behind him loomed a deeply cushioned leather headboard. “How’s Foxy this morning? What do the numbers say?”
Fox smiled into the camera atop his laptop screen. “The numbers aren’t what I was hoping for,” he said with a good-natured shrug. “I kind of liked this one, so I was a little surprised that she netted out at seventy-two.”
“Ouch,” Chad said, wincing sympathetically. “Sorry, man. Her pictures were awesome. I was pulling for you.”
“The numbers don’t lie, man,” Fox answered with a shrug.
“So she’ll be getting the email this morning?”
Fox nodded. “I just need to figure out which one.”
“I thought low seventies got ‘we both knew it wasn’t working.’”
“Yeah, normally. But I really thought we were doing better than the low seventies. Her dinner conversation was a lot better than my Sunday evening last week, and that one was in the upper seventies. I was kind of surprised that she netted out where she did.”
“Are you sure you entered everything correctly?”
“You’re asking me if I know how to do data entry? In the spreadsheet I’ve been using for five years?”
Chad laughed. “Maybe it’s time to revise the formulas.”
“No one said it was going to be easy, and I’m not going to lower my standards now.” Fox opened an email window and selected the “low seventies” template.
“What’s the queue look like for the weekend?” Chad asked.
“Got a brunch today, then a dinner, and a hike on Sunday.”
“Three more chances to find Ms. Right,” Chad said cheerfully. “She’s out there, and you’ll find her.”
“Thanks, man. And pull up your covers—I don’t need to see your nipples first thing in the morning.”
“I like his nipples,” called a woman’s voice from somewhere off-camera. “I think they’re sexy.”
“Agree to disagree, Mia,” Fox shouted into his laptop.
“Are you telling me you don’t think my nipples are sexy, Fox?” Chad winked and gave his heavily muscled pectorals a stripper-like shake at the camera.
“Good thing I haven’t had breakfast yet,” Fox said as he closed the lid of his laptop.
FOX, IN the elevator on the way back to his office after lunch, read the message with a furrowed brow. He monitored his phone closely for Q*pid updates, knowing that women were more likely to interact if men responded to potential matches within seconds rather than hours or even minutes. In the race to get to Ms. Right, he was going to be first across the finish line.
He read the message again. Having been an active user of the service for a couple of years, he was a little flattered that he was being given an exclusive notification, and he certainly liked the idea of artificial intelligence being applied to his quest to find the woman of his dreams. He tapped and read the description of the service.
Give our new AI engine access to your social media profiles, and it will analyze everything you do online to match you to only those women who are most compatible with you—not because of what they say about themselves, but what advanced algorithms discover them to be. This is analysis on a deeper level than any relationship discovery service has ever accomplished before.
Fox pondered this for a moment. Like most people he knew, he carefully curated aspects of his online presence; his LinkedIn profile was the product of constant grooming, and the only photos that went on his Facebook were those that showed him in a particularly flattering light.
Anyone can crawl the web and see your public profile. But for this new service to deliver the best results, we will ask you for all of your social media login information. Only by analyzing everything you do online can our AI brain really get to know you, and deliver the kinds of relationship results that endless questionnaires and disappointing first dates could never come close to.
He frowned. He wasn’t at all sure that giving Q*pid this kind of access was a good idea. With those logins, a hacker could pretty seriously break his life.
We know you’re concerned with privacy. We’re absolutely obsessed with it. In five years of operation, Q*pid has never suffered a security breach or loss of customer data. And only the AI engine will have access to your social media and web usage information—no human will be able to access it, and our strong encryption protects your data end-to-end. We use VPN tunneling to ensure that even your internet service provider cannot intercept your data.
Fox reached his desk, at which he sat without taking his eyes off his phone. He considered the implications of allowing the kind of invasive data-gathering that this new AI thing would require. On the one hand, it would be foolish to allow anyone that kind of access. On the other, he liked the idea of being an early adopter of AI dating services. Plus, he could use some additional analytics behind his spreadsheet-centered approach to relationships. He hadn’t had a score above eighty-three in weeks.
We invite you to be among the first—and the very few—of our customers to use our AI service. Though final pricing has yet to be determined, we’re giving you a chance to try it for free. Of course, you may stop using the service at any point, and we’ll delete your data completely. You’re in control.
He took a deep breath and tapped the Accept button.
Supercharge your love life with our new supercomputer.
Well, that wasn’t what Drew was expecting to see when he felt the heartbeat vibration of his phone. Normally these updates were notifications that his profile had been viewed by the next crazy woman in line. He figured he’d be staring at a profile pic and wondering what piece of furniture he’d next be dropping piece by piece into his garbage can. He read the message again, then tapped through to find out what it meant.
We get it, Drew. You’ve had twenty-three first dates in the last three months, and not one of them has resulted in the kind of relationship you’ve always dreamed of.
“Huh.” He hadn’t expected such blunt talk from his dating app. Though every word was true.
We want to help. Sign on for our new service—free of charge during this trial period—and we guarantee you’ll get matches that are better than you’ve ever imagined.
Maybe his furniture was going to be safe after all.
How do we do it? We use the power of a supercomputer to get to know you through your online activity—the real you—and we crunch the numbers to match you with women who are truly compatible. Your next first date may be your last, Drew. Sign up today.
Am I really that pathetic? He looked around his apartment, at its rather dismal offering of second- and third-hand furniture, the single bowl on the counter in which the dregs of his ramen were already hardening into concrete. Yes, yes I am.
Through the ceiling he heard Mrs. Schwartzmann shuffling through her empty apartment. The bleakest possible vision of his lonely future, literally hanging over his head.
“What the hell?” he said to the place where his coffee table used to be. “It’s not like it can get any worse.” He stared at the screen, his thumb over the button. Never the decisive type, he knew himself to be all the less so when facing decisions that really mattered. He chewed the inside of his lip.
He jumped when his phone buzzed to let him know he needed to leave now if he was going to get to his seminar on time.
Following a quick tap on the Accept button, he slipped the phone into his pocket, then grabbed his book bag and headed out of the apartment.
A CHIME from Fox’s phone made his eyelids flutter but not open. In his half sleep, he recognized the Q*pid notification sound. That he heard it at all meant that a match of at least 85 percent had been found.
A second chime sounded. He opened his eyes and checked the time on the clock next to his bed. It was ten minutes to six. The second chime meant that the match Q*pid wanted him to know about was at least ninety percent.
The third chime was still dying away when he grabbed his phone. He’d never before heard a third chime, but he knew full well what it meant: there was a match with a success potential of more than 95 percent waiting for him. He brought to phone to him and tapped on the notification.
A 99.5 percent match is waiting for you! the message said.
“Fuck,” Fox said out loud. He’d never even seen a match higher than 95 percent, and never dreamed there could be such a thing as a match in excess of 99 percent.
He tapped the link so see who this woman, this perfect specimen, this impossible angel, could be. Whoever she was, she was the woman he’d been searching his whole life for.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them, the picture was waiting for him.
His phone flew across the room, then skidded under his dresser before crashing into the wall behind.
“Fucking fuck!” Fox shouted, shaking his head to clear it of what he’d seen. He was breathing hard, and for the next few minutes was certain the walls of his bedroom were closing in on him.
He flopped back onto his pillow and stared hard at the ceiling.
“Fuck,” he whispered.
“WHAT DOES the computer tell you to do?” Mrs. Schwartzmann asked, peering over Drew’s shoulder.
“It wants me to remind you that avocado pits shouldn’t go down the disposal.”
“But so slippery they are,” she replied. “I try to keep it from going down drain, but I could not hold on.”
Drew sighed. “Then you should reach down and pull it out, not turn the disposal on.”
“Put my hand in the place where the blades spin so fast?” Mrs. Schwartzmann recoiled from the very idea.
“The blades only spin if you turn them on.”
“That is what they say. Then your hand into drain you put, and before you know what is happening, the blades start with spinning.”
“Well, now the blades won’t spin at all, and unless I find something on YouTube that shows me where to stick this little wrench, they’ll never spin again. You’ll be perfectly safe.”
“But my sink is full of water.”
“That’s the price of safety, Mrs. Schwartzmann.”
Her shrug conveyed clearly her belief that there was no such thing as safety, not at any price. “While you look on the computer, I will make some eggs. With avocado.”
He managed a smile as he scrolled through yet another page full of videos. “What’s better at six in the morning on a Saturday than your soft-boiled eggs and avocado?” Another three hours of sleep, he thought to himself. That would be better.
A chime, followed by a second, followed by a third, emanated from his laptop.
“You find the answer?” she asked, without turning from where she stood chopping avocado.
“No, that’s my online dating app. It’s never dinged at me three times before. It must have found someone amazing.”
Mrs. Schwartzmann spun around. “Is there picture? Does she have strong arms like she break furniture, maybe for fun?”
“We’ll find out in a minute,” Drew said. “It’s loading now.”
She wiped her hands and shuffled—no, danced—over to the table. “Let us see this wonder woman.”
The picture popped up. Drew stared at it for a long moment.
“What?” she asked, her voice full of sudden concern. “What is the matter? You look like you have seen ghost.”
“It’s not a ghost,” Drew said slowly. “It’s a….”
“Dear boy, what is it?” She sat down opposite, slowly, as if bracing herself to hear tragic news. “What does the computer say?”
“The computer,” Drew replied, but his voice broke before he could finish. He swallowed hard. “Mrs. Schwartzmann, the computer says I’m gay.”