Can Facebook and Alexa Predict Your Next Breakup?

We’re in the early years of big data and artificial intelligence. It may seem like it’s already ubiquitous, but we’re just getting started here. Facial recognition, ads that predict what you’re about to buy, “the internet of things” which knows when you’re running out of milk – it’s all kind of cool and kind of scary.

Then I read this article about AI predicting the demise of your relationship.

Maybe I’m naive, but it kind of sounds like bullshit to me.

“In 2013, Facebook engineer Lars Backstrom and Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University co-authored a paper identifying a number of factors that contribute to long-term relationship success, such as whether a couple had lots of friends in common or whether they posted a lot of photos together. The researchers found they were able to determine with 60 percent accuracy whether a couple would break up. A subsequent study by Facebook data scientist Bogdan State analyzed Facebook relationship statuses from 2008 to 2011. He found that couples on Facebook were more likely to stay together once they hit the three-month mark, with their chances of success increasing the longer they stay together.”

I’m no scientist but the first paper is only as accurate as how much someone uses Facebook.

I’m no scientist but the first paper is only as accurate as how much someone uses Facebook. I have college friends who aren’t on there while their wives are. What does that say about their relationship? Nothing.

Similarly, couples who make it three months are more likely to stay together than – what – couples who break up before three months?  Indeed, couples who stay together are more likely to stay together.

There’s more in the article about algorithms that can predict your future, but here’s the reason I don’t believe in them: humans can’t predict their future.

It’s possible that a John Gottmaneseque algorithm could listen to all of your conversations, reveal whether he is turning away from your bids for connection and affection, and point out that your relationship is not healthy.

But there’s a big difference between a bad relationship and a breakup. Hundreds of millions of people are in bad relationships and don’t break up – out of fear, inertia, insecurity, money, sunk costs, etc. The best an algorithm (or a dating coach) can do is tell you that something is wrong; whether you do anything about it is ultimately a human choice.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.



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