He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.


I was a computing student in my college days. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll already be quite bored by my stories of BBS systems, AIX servers and FidoNet - but what I haven’t yet bored you with is how I tried to program an algorithm that defined love.
I recall my college days with a degree of fond affection. For two years, I threw myself into my course with a gusto that I’ve never since repeated. I became part of a group of fellow geeks who equally committed themselves to their work. I came home late – sometimes I stayed all weekend. We tried to “outcode” each other and the end result was that I came away with an A-Level and a set of Distinctions that I genuinely felt were deserved. Output definitely equalled input.
One of the course requirements was for me to submit a largish programming project during my second year, a task I thoroughly enjoyed. The system had to employ some sort of database, something that I coded in MODULA-2, a language that most people probably haven’t even heard of. I still think of MODULA-2 as the best programming language since BASIC. Ignore all that Visual Aquatic Puma++ shite, DOS-based development environments are the way forward.
My class were a competitive bunch and I was no exception. I took on something large - writing a piece of software that would allow me to run a dating agency. The program would allow me to print candidate questionnaires, harvest their data and play Geek Cupid by finding their perfect match. The announcement of what I was doing even impressed non-computing students, because a geek was doing a project that sounded vaguely normal. Dating was something that everyone could relate to, albeit in varying degrees.

Setting up a dating agency wasn’t a small task. People weren’t going to be interested unless I could lure them in to submitting their data – both male and female. You can’t sell a dating agency when it has zero clients. My class comprised of about twelve guys and one girl – so I needed to spread my wings. On the bus home each evening, I propositioned female students to submit their data. I used my girlfriend to sweet-talk the nearby hairdressers and beauty therapists into submitting their info too. Anything that reduced the somewhat high testosterone ratio was all good.
And then there was the programming. How do you define “love” as an algorithm?
I tried lots of different things. I compared physical attributes, hobbies, interests (and dislikes), whether the person was a smoker or not, I tried it all - and my results were relatively successful - although I’ll be the first to admit that you can’t define love as being a shared interest in classical music. I used a few “known couples” as the benchmarks. If existing couples were matched up, chances are I was probably getting close. Of course, there’s no accounting for the random factor (or beer goggles), but I’ve seen worse attempts at matchmaking. It was generally well-received, I got a distinction for the project and I got a bit of kudos from my colleagues for playing Gupid. Yay.
I coded that stuff at 1991, at the age of 19. Twenty years have gone past and I was intrigued to see this. The crux of the article is that dating agencies are generally considered socially acceptable now. However, they still haven’t really managed to define “love” as an algorithm and that their success still hasn’t been scientifically proven. I find it consoling that having put such a tool together, nobody’s really managed to do it any better. Hindsight tells me that this could have been a worthwhile business venture.

You can’t program the definition for love, because everyone’s definition is different. If you ask 10 passers-by what their definition of love is, chances are they’ll all give you entirely different answers. To some, it’s emptying the bins on a Sunday night (glamorous stuff!), whilst others will be in love with their lumps, bumps and chocolate cake, or maybe it’s the instinctive gravitational pull of your beer compass that brings you to the warm place next to your loved-one late at night. Love is different things to different people and chances are there isn’t a tick-box on the form for your version. Love’s an odd sausage.

I still wonder, though. I wonder if any of those matches I made ever came true.

One thing’s for sure, though. If in twenty year’s time nobody’s managed to get it right, then I’m pretty certain that another twenty isn’t going to give enlightenment. When you think about it, love is an intangible and daft concept. It could just be a hormonal imbalance, a whole string of chance events or the result of our brain playing tricks on us. In all honesty, we don’t have a clue. Whatever it is, though, enjoy your day.

And if you’re single, don’t get too hung up about it - at least you’ll be able to eat what you like, have full control of the TV remote and be able to watch the telly in your underpants. It’s not all bad.
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