Say hello to the robot that asks your bra size

The sleazy chatbot that captures the experience of online dating

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

True story: I've never tried online dating. I've had two relationships since the advent of dating apps, both of which were spawned via work or mutual friends. And honestly, I've always felt a little left out. It's a conversation I have to gloomily sit out of, while my single friends compare battle scars. I'm envious of the camaraderie of it all, of the women who roll up their sleeves and say "See this? Tinder date. December, 2014. Took me to a Benihana and then elbowed me into a hot spatula." 

So I was a little excited this morning to try Dbot, an internet chatbot created by New York students Joanna Chinn and Bryan Collinsworth. The app aims to capture the glory and nuance of online dating, where you can enjoy guilt-free flirting with a nameless chatbot who asks you your bra size. Because Chinn and Collins have programmed their chatbot using data fromactual dating app conversations, and have done so to highlight the harassment women face online in the name of "flirting". 

Chinn explains her idea, stating that she wanted to reveal "the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes and the ease with which disrespectful and patronising comments find their way into everyday conversation.” 

I log in and decide to take it semi-seriously, as if I were a woman trying to meet someone. 

Finally, a man who interprets my peasant Irish heritage as interesting and spicy. Things are heating up! Soon however, my suitor started repeating himself, constantly asking for my bra size, my full name and if he could get pictures of me. Suddenly, I don't feel so left out of dating apps. This isn't just insulting: it's downright dull. Is this what my single friends have to put up with? 

Eventually, I grow weary of trolling my troll with Gary Sinise enquiries and click on to another tab to start writing this piece. I click back and find that I have hundreds of messages, all "Where did you go? Aren't you going to say hello? Hello? Am I doing all the talking here?" 

It makes me feel a little queasy: the aggression, the pursuing, the utter avoidance of my Gary Sinise questions. It's nauseating, and importantly, I've heard enough to know that it's pretty accurate. Wisely, Dbot keeps it pretty soft: there are no expletives, making it a perfect education tool for classes on sexual consent. With any luck, it will become one. 


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