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Instead, he realized, he should be dating like a mathematician.Ok Cupid was founded by Harvard math majors in 2004, and it first caught daters' attention because of its computational approach to matchmaking.(The subject: large-scale data processing and parallel numerical methods.) While the computer chugged, he clicked open a second window to check his Ok Cupid inbox.Mc Kinlay, a lanky 35-year-old with tousled hair, was one of about 40 million Americans looking for romance through websites like Match.com, J-Date, and e-Harmony, and he'd been searching in vain since his last breakup nine months earlier.And that was in a city containing some 2 million women (approximately 80,000 of them on Ok Cupid).On a site where compatibility equals visibility, he was practically a ghost. If, through statistical sampling, Mc Kinlay could ascertain which questions mattered to the kind of women he liked, he could construct a new profile that honestly answered those questions and ignored the rest.Then, after about a thousand profiles were collected, he hit his first roadblock.Ok Cupid has a system in place to prevent exactly this kind of data harvesting: It can spot rapid-fire use easily. He turned to his friend Sam Torrisi, a neuroscientist who'd recently taught Mc Kinlay music theory in exchange for advanced math lessons.
Ok Cupid lets users see the responses of others, but only to questions they've answered themselves.The experience kindled his interest in applied math, ultimately inspiring him to earn a master's and then a Ph D in the field."They were capable of using mathematics in lots of different situations," he says.Mc Kinlay set up his bots to simply answer each question randomly—he wasn't using the dummy profiles to attract any of the women, so the answers didn't matter—then scooped the women's answers into a database.Mc Kinlay watched with satisfaction as his bots purred along.
"They could see some new game—like Three Card Pai Gow Poker—then go home, write some code, and come up with a strategy to beat it."Now he'd do the same for love. While his dissertation work continued to run on the side, he set up 12 fake Ok Cupid accounts and wrote a Python script to manage them.