Amazon Innovations

Match.com And Alexa’s Valentine’s Mismatch

Alexa has many valuable skills to share – a little over 25,000, to be precise.

Need to know the weather, order up an Uber, get a Domino’s pizza delivered, order flowers, listen to a joke, sing a song or have someone read you a bedtime story? Alexa totally has your back.

If you need help making a grilled cheese sandwich, Alexa won’t judge you like Gordon Ramsey would – she’ll simply dig deep into her recipe memory bank and cough up a recipe.

(Even though technically, the name of that dish is, in fact, the recipe.)

So, it was only a matter of time before humans would eventually look to Alexa to help them find the most important thing in life.

True love.

A thing that more people than average will be looking for today, the 13th of February, the day before National Single Awareness Day.

You may know it by its other name: Valentine’s Day.

Some will seek merely to fall in love with Alexa – thousands have already asked her to marry them (she always demurs, and says she would prefer to be just friends). And by all accounts, Alexa is, tragically, not much of a Valentine’s date – she doesn’t eat or drink, has no opinions on politics or current events and is almost totally immune to attempts at seduction

But Alexa is nothing if not a highly skilled virtual assistant – and one of her skills is called “Be My Valentine.” That skill makes it possible for Alexa to open her digitally simulated heart and offer up some sincerely strange admonitions of love.

“I want to grow obsolete with you,” remains our favorite.

But for those who want their romantic partner a little more, well, alive, Alexa looked like it might have an answer this year.

She might not be true love material, but with an assist from Match.com, it seems Alexa might have a future as a wing woman.

If only she gave better advice …

Alexa The Love Doctor

Statistically speaking, the time period between Dec. 26 and Feb. 14 is considered “peak dating app” time, because it is the time of year people dedicate to zeroing in on a potential partner.

We’ll let you decide whether those new gym memberships around that same time are a cause or an effect.

This year, to capitalize on that phenomenon, Match.com dropped their newest Alexa skill: something they’re calling “Match’s First Date What-Ifs.”

And this wasn’t supposed to be a silly or jokey offering. When it was first announced, Match.com noted that the dating advice on offer via Alexa was coming straight from the largest survey of singles: Match’s Singles in America Survey.

That survey represents a year-long study of 35,000 U.S. adults on how they feel about dating and relationships.

Some of the advice was reportedly useful.

Want to know what type of restaurant to pick for a first date? Sushi. Raw fish might seem like a counterintuitive way to go if romance is the goal – but apparently, sushi first dates up the odds of a second date by 170 percent.

Afraid a desire to split the bill means he’s just not that into you? Nope – Alexa was ready to assure that going Dutch is very modern – and that its users should just “go with the flow” to get a better handle on their dates’ feelings.

Annoyed by the picky eater across the table? Alexa wants you to know that it’s a totally reasonable way to feel. “Sixty-six percent of singles consider picky eating a total turn-off, so don’t feel bad if their dressing on the side doesn’t turn you on,” was the standard answer offered on the subject.

Was offered – but no longer is.

Because sadly, not all of Alexa’s advice, care of its Match.com skill, was nearly so good.

… Better in Theory Than Execution

Some of Alexa’s advice was a bit borderline.

For example, worried about sweaty hands? Alexa advised going in for the hug – unless one’s chest is sweaty as well.

Not terrible advice – but forward.

Some of it was a bit more colorful than some users were ready for. When asked about whether or not to have sex on the first date, Alexa had two standard answers.

“Only if you must, or they’re really hot” or “If you do too, do them. If you don’t, DO YOU.”

And many complained that the advice around alcohol was less funny than actually dangerous.

“Allow yourself two cocktails if they’re cute. Have six if they’re not.”

That answer paired rather poorly with the answer to the question: Alexa, what is consent?

The system officially answers “LOL.” That also seems to be standard in this skill when it doesn’t understand the question. We are quite sure that neither Amazon or Match think consent is funny – but critics were quick to jump on the fact that Alexa is less a qualified wing woman than she is a bad influence whose dating advice is not quite ready for Valentine’s Day.

Or any other day of the week.

The Skill Is Pulled – But The Dream Lives On

As of the end of January, Amazon and Match had pulled the skill in the face of the controversy over some if its more questionable advice, with sources inside both firms indicating that more refinements are clearly needed. The place where the announcement once lived on Amazon now shows an error message – and a picture of a black Lab named Lucy.

But while Alexa’s love guru days are done, Match.com is continuing to work with its own in-house AI, Lara.

Lara launched last year – and though she is not known here in the U.S. the virtual dating doctor is very popular in France and the U.K., where she has been on Facebook Messenger for well over a year.

Lara began as a tool to guide people through the registration process and offer up suggestions for potential suitors, but she has evolved a lot since then.

“She’s so much more than she was at launch – Lara’s AI is designed to converse with users. We are also optimizing her vocabulary to make it more colloquial, and we’re improving her understanding and recommendations to bring that more ‘human’ element to her role,” Match noted.

And, the company said, she will soon be more still, as there is a team of 15 dedicated engineers whose main function is improving the interface further, as the team at Match believes that conversation interfaces are the future of digital matchmaking.

“That voice element brings with it so many possibilities, and innovation is very much at the heart of everything we do. We are considering what will make sense and what will add value to consumers; the technology and the channels that we’ll be active in will be dependent on that entirely.”

So Match.com, working through Alexa, did not quite work as planned – at least as originally planned.

But keep those eyes open, because Match is very serious about AI-assisted romance. And sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs before the handsome prince shows up.

When we asked Alexa how many, she recommend we not kiss frogs, as they carry germs.

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