A group of alleged ex-Tinder engineers designed a service to improve the experience of heterosexual men in the only place they face systemic disadvantage: on dating apps

Update: After publication of this story, CupidBot retracted their previous claims made on their website and in an interview with Document Journal that they formerly worked at Tinder. A representative of Tinder has also confirmed that the group’s founders are not former employees of Tinder or Match Group.

A new app is looking to level the playing field between women and men—but not in the way you might think.

CupidBot—designed to swipe right and secure dates with women on behalf of men—has promised that, for $15 a month, male dating app users will “never have to small-talk again,” and can instead “skip to the good part” (presumably, sitting across the table from someone at a restaurant, unsure of what the bot said to get them there).

CupidBot was built by a team of alleged ex-Tinder engineers, and is currently in Beta testing. When I signed up, I was told I was number 4,998 on the list, and wouldn’t receive access for another two weeks. When reached for comments, a spokesperson enthused about the app’s positive potential: how CupidBot, harnessing a finely-tuned version of GPT-4, could revolutionize dating for those most “systematically disadvantaged” on the online dating market: men.

Trained on thousands of conversations that led to a man getting a woman’s phone number—some of which were sourced from Reddit—the app’s machine learning model offers users a few conversational styles with which to approach women: calm, direct, or romantic, to name a few. Next month, the company plans to up the ante with unique language models built for each user, trained to mimic their personal conversational styles. As for the swiping? Matches are determined based on an aggregate of all the people a given user encountered before using CupidBot. But the real secret sauce, the spokesperson says, “is that it takes input from a woman’s profile’s images, biography, and interests to formulate a personalized opener.”

The engineers behind CupidBot are aware that there are ethical issues involved in using an AI to simulate flirtation with a slew of oblivious love interests—it’s why, at this point, they’ve chosen to remain anonymous. But according to the spokesperson, people need help getting dates—especially straight men, many of whom have little to show after hours spent on Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge. So CupidBot aimed its arrow at a problem dating apps just aren’t motivated to solve: the fact that most conversations go nowhere, leading to a cycle of endless swiping and ghosting. This is because, according to the spokesperson, “the last thing dating apps want is for you to go on a date, and for it to go well.”

“CupidBot aimed its arrow at a problem dating apps just aren’t motivated to solve: the fact that most conversations go nowhere, leading to a cycle of endless swiping and ghosting.”

The team behind the app claims that CupidBot was invented not to dupe women, but as a means of “[removing] the shackles of greedy dating app algorithms,” by giving people (read: men) the tools to save time and go on more dates. Having claimed to be ex-employees of the world’s most popular dating app, they believe that, “because Tinder profits from continual engagement,” their interests are at odds with those of their users—and that Tinder’s unwillingness to optimize men’s experience confirmed that their romantic failure was not a bug to fix, but an intentional feature of the service. “Dating apps do not, and cannot, put the best interest of users first,” the spokesperson says, claiming that everything about modern dating apps—from the roster of potential matches to the time between push notifications—is optimized to emulate the dopamine spikes and dips of gambling. Fed up with a system that seemed to disadvantage men, the team cleared out their desks in January of this year, and began building CupidBot.

The app, which claims to integrate with Tinder and Bumble, has been in private testing since February. According to the spokesperson, its success rate is one out of 16—the marker of success being a real-life date. “We focus on the dating lives of straight men, because they suffer most from dating apps—so although CupidBot can be used by anyone, we’ve built it with the average man in mind,” they say, claiming that, of all people, straight men are the ones who most need their help. (What they fail to mention, however, is the disproportionate risk women face when dating men.) This male-centric approach manifests in CupidBot’s marketing: On its website, the app promises to weed out “attention whores”—those who use Tinder as an “elixir of validation,” the team later says, clarifying that they don’t believe that women themselves are to blame.

The problem with dating apps, according to CupidBot’s spokesperson, is that the vast majority of users are straight males. This, coupled with large differences in behavior and motive, means there is “agonizing asymmetry” in user experience. Men struggle to obtain a single match after hours of swiping, while the average woman is inundated with them—leading them to swipe right only on the top five percent of profiles, an “upper echelon” of men who are less likely to ask them out. This creates a feedback loop in which, faced with a lack of matches, men relax their standards to increase their odds of a match—which, in turn, gives more women matches, further exacerbating the issue, and driving them toward the same handful of highly-desired candidates. “We don’t think any gender is at fault here,” the spokesperson says, claiming that “dating app structure fails both men and women.”

“The problem… is that the basic premise of pickup artistry hinges on the belief that interactions between men and women are dictated by universal principles that, once understood, can be readily manipulated to bring about the desired effect.”

They’re not the first to employ AI as a way to get ahead in the dating space: People have already been gaming apps with ChatGPT on an individual level, and Tinder itself uses AI to generate suggested conversation-starters—meaning that, in a Black Mirror-esque twist, CupidBot might find itself conversing with a fellow bot on its user’s behalf, or, at least, responding to the phrases supplied by one. This raises questions about what lies ahead: If the conversation on both sides is AI-generated, and neither user realizes they aren’t really messaging another person, what are they going to talk about over shrimp scampi?

The team behind the project seems to think that, while the morality may be murky, dating apps have already intervened so thoroughly in human interaction that the first few back and forths required to get a woman’s phone number need not be particularly memorable. “What really skews the probability of a date,” they say, “is how you build rapport once you have her number.”

Though the bot does not reveal itself to potential matches, the engineers behind it do encourage its users to do so—at least, once that number is secured. “Our goal is not to saturate the app with artificial conversation, and certainly not to objectify women,” CupidBot’s founders say, “but rather to force dating apps to reevaluate how they operate.” And if they get some men laid in the meantime—well, that’s good too.

Like many pickup artists, CupidBot claims that it has the data on how to talk to girls for “optimal results.” The problem—aside from viewing women’s hesitancy to meet up with male strangers as a design challenge to be solved—is that the basic premise of pickup artistry hinges on the belief that interactions between men and women are dictated by universal principles that, once understood, can be readily manipulated to bring about the desired effect. This transforms what should be part of the fun of dating—getting to know someone on an individual, and, well, human level—into yet another means to an end, made increasingly frictionless by new technologies. It’s true that, for many women, sifting through Tinder matches might be a slog. And for men, the lack thereof can be discouraging. But the alternative robs both parties of the ability to develop authentic chemistry through their initial interactions—which, if you’re doing it right, can be its own form of foreplay. The team behind CupidBot may have identified a real issue in the modern dating market—but the fact that so many straight men are eager to automate their first conversations with women speaks to why they need the help of AI in the first place.