The love formula in dating sites was all about category-matching: prospective partners were matched according to their self-selected characteristics, keywords and answers to personality questionnaires. In 2020, partners will be matched according to genetic compatibility and psychometric characteristics, processed by sophisticated love algorithms.
Dating sites will be replaced by a complementary offer of centralised and decentralised dating platforms. The centralised platforms will have the added capability of offering precise recommendations. (For example, if you liked this blonde girl in Manchester, you will also like this blonde girl in New York.) Decentralised, user-owned dating platforms will contain private data that would be too intrusive to be processed by the centralised systems (such as the time and location of actual dates). Both platforms will process users’ dating preferences rooted in their DNA: the 2020 dating ecosystems will use behavioural genetics and endocrinological data to provide deeply personalised dating recommendations.
Behavioural geneticists have known for years that partners in long-term relationships have similar genes. The easiest way to determine how genetically close individuals are is to analyse their saliva samples. The dating ecosystems will combine genetic models with detailed personality testing. This will enable them to detect romantic partners with similar genetic makeup as well as attitudes and lifestyles.
Contextual cues designed by behavioural scientists will nudge users to reveal the full spectrum of their sexual orientations and potentially multiple gender identities. The freedom to choose from same-sex and opposite-sex matching will make polyamorous and open relationships thrive. The possibility to adjust the commitment level, geographical location or length of interest in a prospective partner (short-term or long-term dating) will drive some users from romantic relationships to asexual friendships and other supportive relationships.
Highly individualised information will increase users’ sensitivity towards recommended matches. Over time, users will demand a stronger sense of agency in the selection process with, for example, a choice between “wildcard matches” (for example: combine my profile with any partner ethnicity) and “precisely personalised suggestions” (such as exclude all partners with green eyes). Love at first sight and active searching of Mr and Mrs Right will be passé. Partner search will be automatic, distributed and global. The psychological and microbiological entanglement that typically occurs during a long-term relationship will happen before the couples meet.
New intimacy needs will pave the way for new virtual communication that actively engages all senses. Forget written messages, generic “winks” or “waves”. Tactile emoticons and olfactory displays that emit functional smells on demand will be how romantic partners interact in 2020. Manufacturers dedicated to the design of technologies that can transmit sensations across distance (such as Kissenger), or deliver selected scents via electronic media (Aromyx), will notice significant upturns in their incomes. In addition, multimedia communication will become more sophisticated. Video profiles with accent correction and simultaneous language translation will be designed to nudge decision-making and emotional intensity between partners.
For the new dating ecosystems to attract a large and sustained user base, they will need to operate under the highest security standards. Most platforms will guarantee 24/7 monitoring of all access routes to the physical server rooms, and proactive identification of exploits and potential data vulnerabilities. Yet, only the top premium platforms will be able to manage multiple methods for encryption of data in transit and data at rest. Thus fully managed, subscription-based services will be exclusively affordable to the top sections of a society.
The 2020 dating ecosystems will have enormous social implications for family structures and relationship dynamics. For some, the new dating ecosystems will transform the definition of love. For others, they will be an instantiation of genetic determinism and the Matthew effect: those with unfavourable genetic dispositions or acquired diseases will be excluded from the love market even before entering it. In some societies, political and cultural values will reinforce racialised or gendered definitions of love. Whether users or non-users, we all will need to accept that quintessentially human feelings get traded and quantified before they have been named.
Natalia Kucirkova is a senior research associate at UCL Institute of Education in London
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