Flirty or Friendzone? New AI Scans Your Texts for True Love

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Flirty or Friendzone? New AI Scans Your Texts for True Love

Every good love story has a moment in which the precious ingénue, blind to the complexities of the world, misinterprets the lover’s move. Sally mistakes Harry’s interest for friendship. Romeo, believing Juliet to be dead, poisons himself. The folly of love is not so much about what we do when we are flooded with feelings, but what can happen when we have incomplete data. This is perhaps why a crop of new apps have arrived, harnessing the powers of artificial intelligence, to offer relationship advice.

One of them, Mei, is billed as a “relationship assistant.” The Android version of the app, which arrived last September, parses text conversations to estimate the compatibility and personality of the individual you’re chatting with, scoring along five traits: openness, emotional control, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The iOS version, which debuted this weekend, has a singular function: to suggest the probability, on a 100-point scale, that the contact is romantically interested.

Mei

It costs $9 to buy 100 Mei credits, the amount required to analyze a single conversation. (Larger credit packs come at a discount; you can get 500 for $40 or 1,000 for $70.) Right now, the app can only analyze conversations from WhatsApp, which conveniently lets a user export a chat log. Once a conversation is whizzed over to Mei’s servers, it’s crunched through a series of algorithms that search for clues.

I ran several of my WhatsApp chat logs through the analyzer. Mei needs at least 1,000 words to perform its diagnostics, which disqualified several conversations, including the one with my actual boyfriend, who was begged to text me exclusively on WhatsApp for a few days. Others cut the mustard. One conversation, with an Israeli soldier I’d met on Birthright, returned a 24 percent likelihood of romantic interest. That seemed about right. Another conversation, with someone I had briefly dated, scored slightly higher—but even then, only a 43 percent likelihood, despite some R-rated chatter. The only person Mei suggested was likely to have romantic feelings for me was my oldest childhood friend, a gay man.

Not following the logic, I reached out to Mei’s creator, Es Lee. Lee began tinkering with a program to measure romantic interest after watching a clueless friend get ghosted after a date. Lee took his friend’s phone, scrolled through the texts, and saw that his friend had misinterpreted the conversational subtext. “It’s almost like texting body language,” he says. “Do you wait to reply, or do you reply immediately? Do you use exclamation points? Do you double text? I thought a lot of that could be done with algorithms. It felt like a natural thing to do.”

Lee’s first app, called Crushh, promised exactly that. The “texting relationship analyzer” offered a romantic interest score on a scale of zero to five, as well as insights on the power dynamics in a conversation (i.e., who likes who more). It also prompted users to say a little about each repartee: How old were the people in the conversation, what were their genders? Was the contact a colleague? A spouse? A crush?

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Lee says the app processed “hundreds of thousands” of these conversations, many of them self-labeled with those context clues. That provided a hefty data set of what real text conversations looked like, across various demographics and in different types of relationships. Some of the patterns were obvious—a person who says “I miss you” early in a conversation likely has the feels—but others were more Delphian. “Based on the data, people who have romantic intent use the words ‘night’ and ‘dream’ a lot more,” says Lee.

Other apps have used similar models to juice up sales pitches, advise employees on messaging the boss, or generate context-specific email replies. Boomerang, a plug-in for Gmail and Outlook, makes an AI tool that proofreads emails and suggests ways to improve them before you hit “Send.” An app called Keigo combines “advanced psychology” and “cutting-edge AI” to determine the personality of a person based on their emails or tweets, and then provides helpful suggestions on how to approach them.

Like any good assistant, Keigo can slide deftly into many situations: to prepare for the job interview, to win the se

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