More than a decade of dating apps has shown the process can be excruciating. A new app is trying to make dating less exhausting by using artificial intelligence to help people skip the earliest, often cringey stages of chatting with a new match.
On Volar, people create dating profiles by messaging with a chatbot instead of filling out a profile. They answer questions about what they do for work or fun and what they’re looking for in a partner, including preferences about age, gender, and personal qualities. The app then spins up a chatbot that tries to mimic not only a person’s interests but also their conversational style.
That personal chatbot then goes on quick virtual first dates with the bots of potential matches, opening with an icebreaker and chatting about interests and other topics picked up from the person it is representing. People can then review the initial conversations, which are about 10 messages long, along with a person’s photos, and decide whether they see enough potential chemistry to send a real first message request. Volar launched in Austin in December and became available around the US this week via the web and on iPhone.
The new app is just one example of how generative AI has seeped into the dating scene over the past year, with both app developers and people seeking soulmates adopting the technology. Although apps like Hinge have added new features such as conversation-starting prompts on profiles and voice memos, dating apps mostly have stuck to the basic swiping method invented by Tinder more than a decade ago. Many users are fed up. A 2022 survey found that nearly 80 percent of people across different age groups reported feeling burned out or emotionally fatigued when using dating apps.
Volar was developed by Ben Chiang, who previously worked as a product director for the My AI chatbot at Snap. He met his fiancée on Hinge and calls himself a believer in dating apps, but he wants to make them more efficient.
Those early first messages between a newly matched pair can be “really painful,” Chiang says, and the awkwardness can make it difficult to assess whether a match could lead to true love or is best abandoned. Volar’s chatbots are designed to help with that early engagment but then step aside, not to become an AI partner. “It’s not supposed to be a human replacement,” Chiang says. “It’s still on you to build a connection or not.”
WIRED tested the app, and after the initial chat covering key questions such as age, work, and hobbies, the chatbot persona that Volar created got to work in four different matched conversations on its first day. One of them was started by the reporter-trained chatbot, which opened with, “If you own any pet, and it accidentally launched a nuke, how would it have done it?” WIRED had not discussed nuclear weapons or missiles with the chatbot during its initial training. Chiang says there are safeguards on the app to avoid inappropriate topics and that this response seemed to fall “on the border of silly versus inappropriate.”