Algorithms can sway people when making internet dating decisions

Artificial intelligence-based algorithms can influence persons to prefer one political candidate – or a would-be partner – over another, according to researchers.

“We come to mind that many people are using recommendation algorithms on a regular basis, but there is no information how effective those recommendation algorithms are,” says Helena Matute at the University of Deusto in Spain.

Her work with her colleague Ujué Agudo, also at the University of Deusto, was made to investigate the issue.

The researchers completed a number of four experiments in which participants were told these were getting together with an algorithm that would judge their personality. The “algorithm” didn’t do this: it had been a mock algorithm that responded just as whatever the information that people gave it. After participants had answered the mock algorithm’s questions, it presented them with photographs of potential partners they might date or political leaders they might vote for – although the “politicians” were simply photographs of men and women unfamiliar to them.

Sometimes the researchers’ mock-algorithm explicitly nudged users to choose among the photographed individuals. It might state, for instance, that it had discovered a 90 per cent compatibility match between your user and the potential partner or politician in the photo. In other cases, the cue was implicit: the algorithm might simply show an individual one particular photo more regularly.

Read more: Can nudge theory really stop covid-19 by changing our behaviour?

Study participants were drawn from Spanish-language Twitter and paid survey platform Prolific. Between 218 and 441 people took part, according to the experiment.

Individuals were asked which photographed people they preferred. These were much more likely to prefer political applicants presented explicitly to them by the mock-algorithm, and more likely to want to date those that were implicitly selected.

“Maybe we’ve the theory that algorithms are objective and neutral and efficient, and with numbers and rules,” says Agudo, regarding why we prefer explicit algorithmic tips for politicians. “It’s a decision where feelings aren’t involved.”

For that reason, we might be inclined to question algorithmic tips more in terms of matters of the heart.

“The authors improve the really important and frightening point that artificial intelligence, big data and broad user bases give unprecedented opportunities to private corporations for refining their understanding and application of the powers of persuasion,” says Ella McPherson at the University of Cambridge.

“This study strengthens calls for platforms like Facebook and Google to become more transparent about their own algorithms,” says Steven Buckley at the University of the West of England, Bristol, in the united kingdom. “If not to everyone, then at least to academics who can research what the algorithms we actually build relationships every day are doing to us.”

Journal reference: PLoS One , DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249454

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