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Can AI Find You the Love of Your Life?

Faced with a steeply declining birth rate, Japan’s government has decided to try AI matchmaking

Well, outsourcing everything to technology is the thing these days and the Japanese government, faced with a steeply declining birthrate, is giving AI matchmaking a try:

Around half of the nation’s 47 prefectures offer matchmaking services and some of them have already introduced AI systems, according to the Cabinet Office.

The human-run matchmaking services often use standardized forms to list people’s interests and hobbies, and AI systems can perform more advanced analysis of this data.

“We are especially planning to offer subsidies to local governments operating or starting up matchmaking projects that use AI,” the official said.

AFP-JIJI, “We have a match! Japan taps AI to boost birth rate slump” at Japan Times (December 7, 2020)

Declining birthrate? Japan Times reports that “The number of children born last year was around 40 percent of the level in the mid-1970s, when Japan last had a fertility rate above 2.0, which is required to sustain the population. While the fertility rate inched up after hitting a low of 1.26 in 2005, it fell again from 2016 to 2018.” (June 4, 2020)

A birth rate that low means few young people are around to develop new ideas and support retiring seniors.

Singularity Hub, home of all things Singularity, thinks AI matchmaking is a great idea:

Several dating apps already use AI. OKCupid uses machine learning both to “connect people” and as a “community improvement tool.” Tinder uses AI to verify user photos and filter offensive content. And the algorithm in any app that involves swiping right or left assigns each user a “value” of sorts based on how many people “like” him or her, and uses that value to determine the order in which to display potential matches based on their “value.”

Yes, the whole thing is fairly dreadful. But on some level, it’s working—in the US, online dating is now the number one way couples meet …

Love is complicated, and bringing algorithms into the picture doesn’t make it much easier—anyone who’s used a dating app knows that. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and Japan seems to be in desperate times. With AI cracking one problem after another, deploying it to help foster some romance in a place where romance is sorely needed may not be the worst idea.

Vanessa Bates Ramirez, “Algorithms for Love: Japan Will Soon Launch an AI Dating Service” at SingularityHub (December 16, 2020)

Hmm. There are a number of underlying assumptions there. Let’s unpack some.

➤ The United States may not have the cultural answer for Japan’s declining birth rate. The U.S. birth rate for 2018 was the lowest in 32 years, with very slight increases in 2019 and 2020 (0.09%).

But… there is a key difference between the United States and Japan: Japan is not a destination for immigrants whereas the United States is. Immigrants tend to be young so a fall in the US birth rate does not directly measure population, as it would in Japan, where the population is both aging and declining at the same time.

➤ The AI “love bomb” assumes that there is a close relationship between wanting a date and wanting a family. For the record, young Japanese have been losing interest in even wanting a date. But let’s assume the bot’s clever algorithm gets them to change their minds about dating: Wanting a family usually derives from an underlying value system that makes a commitment to decades of raising children seem worthwhile. Leave that out and AI could arrange lots more dates a lot faster than any human without spurring more births.

➤ In Japan, one specific problem is thought by some to be cultural:

One of the barriers standing in the way of increased fecundity in Japan is the strong expectation that women do it all: raise the children; do all of the housework; and pursue their careers outside the home. The World Economic Forum’s gender equality rankings placed Japan 121st out of 153 countries, a decline of 11 places from the year before. And the Government is increasing the pressure on Japanese women: it has said it wants to encourage more women into full-time employment as a way to bolster the flagging number of workers.

Marcus Roberts, “What is more romantic than having an algorithm choose your future partner?” at MercatorNet

And what is the algorithm supposed to do about that? Some problems are not solved by a better app.

Well, one thing the app won’t do for us is have kids. That’s just as well. There is some room left for a change of heart.

Why are robots part of religion in Japan? Declining population is only one factor. Ancient cultural beliefs are another.

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Can AI Find You the Love of Your Life?