The robots definitely won't be taking over anytime soon.
Image by Lia Kantrowitz for VICE. All screengrabs via Caroline Thompson.
The 2015 Ashley Madison hack exposed, among MANY other things, that the dating site for cheaters was using roughly 70,000 "female" chatbots to lure men into paying for the service. Apparently they are not the only dating site to pull this kind of stunt, and yet somehow, men keep falling for it. To find out why and how, I let Siri control my Tinder account for a day. And suddenly, it all made sense.
She might be terrible at voice recognition, but as a prolific iPhone texter, I've found Siri's text prediction is almost always dead on. This bitch has analyzed my speech patterns and frequent word usage so thoroughly that I can create semi-coherent sentences using prediction bar alone. Basically, it works like this: I press a random letter on my keyboard, and then choose from the three words Siri suggests based on the conversation I've been having and what she knows about the way I write. I continue to randomly click words in the suggestion bar until Siri has formed a complete sentence. More tech-savvy writers than I have explained before exactly how predictive text works. Another way to think about it is I used Siri as an Apple-branded version of the Facebook app What Would I Say, which automatically generates a sentence that sounds like you, based on your past status updates.
I'm not actually single, so the last time I was on Tinder was in 2013. Back then it was brand new and basically a straight version of Grindr: all chill and no Netflix. Four years later, I have multiple friends who are engaged or married to their Tinder fucks. It's a whole new world, and I am not prepared.
I log into my Tinder account for the first time in four years, and I'm greeted with a picture of me looking 23 and full of promise. Twenty-three-year-old Caroline has no idea her country will soon be run by an oversized rotting clementine wearing a crude mask of human skin. She's young and carefree. She's also a conceited asshole.
Case in point: In the "About Caroline" section, she's pasted the lyrics to an Eydea and Abilities song about how cool and hot she is. Looking at her pictures, I have to agree, she's pretty hot. She has yet to reap the consequences of binge drinking four-plus nights a week and eating entire pizzas in bed. Her life is all salon drama and occasionally sleeping with the lead singer of a Violent Femmes cover band. She's living the dream. But it's time to say goodbye to 23-year-old Caroline and hello to chatbot Tinder Siri.
I need to update the "About" section with something less glaringly vain, and I think honesty is the best policy when it comes to dating. At first, I go with "I am a robot," but that seems too vague. I play around with a few options and ultimately settle on "I am Siri controlling the body of a human woman," because it's straight and to the point. NO GAMES!
What photos would Siri want me to upload if she were actually using my face and body to lure human men to their graves? I choose a smattering of selfies from the past few months—one with a lot of boob, because Siri would have done her research and determined humans like boobs. I grab another of me and my dog, because dogs.
Now there's the question of who I should be swiping right on to connect. If left up to my own devices, I'd probably swipe left to reject on everyone except young Alec Baldwin on a time-travel adventure from 1988. But Siri has other plans. She wants to swipe right with wild abandon, probably to gather data to use against us during the robot uprising. As but a pawn in her game, I begin aggressively right-swiping.
It honestly pains me to swipe right on some of these guys. Why the fuck is anyone still using fraternity group pictures on dating sites!?! You're 28 years old, Ryan! Your days of trying to convince drunk sorority girls to climb into your platform bed are half a decade past. Move on.
Additionally, why would you use a blurry selfie that looks like it was taken on a T-Mobile Sidekick, T-Roy? AND WHY WOULD ANYONE POSE WITH A FUCKING ASSAULT RIFLE AND A DUCK FACE????? I LITERALLY CANNOT SWIPE RIGHT ON ALL OF THESE PEOPLE—I'M SORRY, SIRI. I CAN'T DO IT. I'm also feeling guilty for swiping right on people who look genuinely nice. IT'S A TRAP, GUYS! A TRAP!
After a few minutes of mindless swiping, I have about 20 matches and six unprompted messages. I didn't think being a conventionally attractive blond girl on Tinder would be hard, but Jesus, this is like shooting fish in a fucking barrel.
My first message is from a man named "Jeff." He wants to know how I am and seems to think that "goodmorning" is one word. Siri instructs me to ignore his grammatical foibles and casually write, "You are the best" in response, a completely normal and human thing to say.
Meanwhile, another guy, "Tim," opens with "Hey" and a heart face emoji. Siri has me inform him that, "I'm somewhere around the world":
The rest of the conversation doesn't go much better.
Tim: Well how exciting.
I, Siri: You can have a lot more fun with your Facebook app
Tim: Haha what do you mean
I, Siri: I'm sorry about that I think it's time for me to be happy
Tim: It's always time for you to be happy
I, Siri: I think we can have it now
Tim: What was stopping you before?
I, Siri: You are gonna go back to school.
Naturally, after enough of this Tim becomes both frustrated and "beyond" confused, and Siri becomes existential. At one point during the conversation, exasperated, Tim says he doesn't know what I want. I reply, "You don't know what I want for Christmas." Eventually he stops responding, which is probably for the best because poor "Bob" is getting the full-on Ex Machina treatment over here:
In the span of a short conversation, he uses the phrase, "No fuckin clue what's going on," and also expresses confusion. Eventually, he gets it almost right and realizes he's speaking to someone who might be a bit less than human. Of course, maybe that's because Siri tells him "she is the one who is talking it's not a human" as way of explanation. When Bob gets wise and asks "Are you putting my responses into siri" with a laughing-and-crying emoji, Siri's answer is honest and concise. "I am Siri," she suggests me to write.
Bob can't take the heat. He got the fuck out the kitchen and unmatched me after exposing Siri for what she was. I applaud him for splitting while he still could, but I'm in too deep.
I'm not actually sure what my end goal is here. Maybe I should have thought that out before I started it. Do I keep going until they all stop talking? Until they unmatch me? Until they unmask me as the Apple-branded digital assistant I really am?
I decide to go back to swiping, and again it's a painful experience. So many tucked in button-ups. So many selfies with earbuds in. We get it, you like music, but can you really say that when your Tinder "anthem" is "I Took a Pill in Ibiza"?
After the second round of swiping, there's a new development. "Matt" asks if I work for VICE. I didn't realize my Facebook work info was being pulled into Tinder, and now I feel like I've been caught with my pants down. Siri chills me out, though, by responding with a coy, "How did you get my email."
Siri is really into initiating email-related conversations, I've noticed. I wonder if that's because I use the phrase "email" a lot when I'm texting or if the plan for the robot takeover involves hacking our email servers. Maybe that Google docs phishing scam was actually a practice run?
Like every other man I interact with as Siri, Matt is confused. But he's also a fan of VICE! I assume this means he spends his time writing very long comments about how he misses the "old VICE" on every article we post on Facebook.
Once again Siri outs herself and me in the process. I figure this is the end of the line for me and VICE fan Matt, who hopefully will read this post and eventually understand why I tortured him. He seems like a nice guy! One of his pictures is of his mom kissing him on the cheek, for God's sake! He doesn't deserve this!
OK NEVER MIND HE ABSOLUTELY DESERVES THIS. Siri's response to this query was actually on point, given that she is is only about six years old; she was born in 2011 with the debut of the iPhone 4s. After asking about sex, Matt asks I, Siri, out for drinks, which confuses me. It's one thing to want to fuck a robot: that I get. But if I've learned one thing from this experiment, it's that chatting with Siri is a recipe for terrible conversation. Why Matt wants to continue this clusterfuck in person is beyond me.
Suddenly I understand how all those sexy Ashley Madison chatbots succeeded. Thirsty people aren't concerned with engaging conversation; they're just interested in quenching the thirst. This obvious revelation makes me sad for humanity.
Maybe it's time to let the robots take over.
Follow Caroline Thompson on Twitter.