What makes someone your type? Some people like to divide their objects of lust by hair color, others rate by height, and some will even categorize the prized portions deserving of their lust—a boob guy, a legs man, a beard kinda gal or an arms lady.
FaceDate, an app currently in development stages from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), aims to match users with whoever matches their face type. When users input up to 50 images of celebrities they find attractive, the app then displays, in order, the people nearby whose faces correlate closest with the uploaded images.
Put together by PhD students and professors at the Wing Yu College of Computing at NJIT, they developed Facedate on the premise that all the other dating apps in the crowded market bring people together based on text-based social cues, rather than highlighting physical attraction. Cristian Borcea, its professor, has previously joked that his students simply developed it to find dates for themselves.
But just how good is this app at finding people I'm attracted to? I've been with my girlfriend for three years, but would Facedate have put her in my list of matches? I sent the team at NJIT a bunch of images of celebrities I'm attracted to, and one of my girlfriend to see whether she fit my face-type criteria.
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The celebrities included: Nicki Minaj, ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, Amy Adams, erstwhile Lost star Evangeline Lilly, UK politician Ed Balls, Wayne Rooney, Kristen Stewart, Shirley MacLaine, Zayn Malik, and Lindsay Lohan. As Facedate is currently in its prototype stage on Moitree, it doesn't have many users, so researchers created fake user profiles using celebrities. (Obviously, they didn't input any of the above celebrities, as they would be perfect matches—my dating pool consisted of other celebs they already had on file.) The researchers also created a user profile using my girlfriend's face.
After running the app, they received numbered scores for each user profile they'd created, the lowest being the best match according to my initial submissions of celebrities. Jennifer Connelly is my top match (60.10), followed by Bradley Cooper (70.15), and Twilight actress Ashley Greene (78.45) scored as a better match than my actual girlfriend (88.66). But while I'm definitely into Jennifer Connelly, I'm neutral on Ashley Greene and detest Bradley Cooper and his dorky grin.
Though Facedate was initially a research project, the researchers have applied for a patent and there is talk of approaching venture capitalists to invest in further development. But there are some kinks to iron out first. How is the app going to work in the wild if male participants outnumber female? How do gender nonconforming people fit in? What happens when you can't see certain social cues in a match, like tattoos and piercings, or what they've done with their hair, how big the waterfall behind them is, or whether they've ever pet a sedated tiger?
I spoke to Professor Cristian Borcea, who heads up this project as chair of NJIT's computer science department, to find out what it all means.
BROADLY: Hi Cristian. So, would the app put my girlfriend as a match for me?
Professor Cristian Borcea: Well, 80-something is a pretty good match. And it depends what threshold you set. If you want many matches, you can set the threshold lower, depending on your preference. It will depend on where you are though, if you're in the middle of Manhattan you'll get many more matches than if you're in a more remote site. The worst match possible would be way more than 100.
Did I disturb the app by using male faces as well as female?
Probably yes, I saw you did it and I said, "This is a real test, let's see what happens!" If you put just female and similar faces into the app you would get a better performance, but if you put Wayne Rooney in there, I don't know what you'll get! He did disturb the app.
I just love blue eyes! Did the app pick up Shirley MacLaine's in black and white?
The app by default makes colour photos black and white but it can pick up colours through the nuance of the black and white.
Friends who use Grindr complain there's a lot of racist "whites only" requests on there. Let's say a guy only enters in photos of white men. Would he only be shown white men, or would Facedate's algorithms leave race behind?
It's a good question. I think by default, it should leave the race behind, because I don't think it's that easy to say you can learn a race based on photos. Different people have different faces, it's not like a race has the same model face. As a scientist I would need to test it, though.
I guess that what's been so nice about Tinder—everyone's shown people they might never normally come into contact with.
I agree that is good, but on the other hand they show you too many pictures and it becomes difficult to go through. In some sense Facedate limits the photos you're going to see.
What if I see someone who's hot, take a photo of them then put it into my Facedate?
So we're allowed to take photos in public, but is it ethical? Probably not. It's a high chance you will match with that person but the safety mechanism is that if they don't match with you, you will never get to see them, so that's better.
I've noticed men on Tinder are just not fussy. How will that manifest on Facedate, will they just set their preferences super low?
I guess that's possible, and the girls would set thresholds a bit higher so they're not bothered too much! We're planning to run a big user study on campus with real students and we're wondering with these issues because it's a technical school, so we have 4:1 more boys than girls. We want to get a more balanced population in the app, but on the other hand we want to release the app into the wild.
Zayn, objectively, has the perfect face, but I'm mostly attracted to Kristen Stewart because of her louche personality. Could celebrity's personalities get in the way of the app?
Users can put whatever they want there, but we would have to guide users to not just put the attractive celebrities, but people who in normal life they would find attractive despite the fact that maybe they are not the most beautiful. I don't know how you would guide them, it's difficult because many times we have a mental image of what we're looking for but then, in reality, we like some other people as well.