Dating is a bleak, bleak endeavor. Between seemingly endless swipes, missed IRL connections, and no one being emotionally available, it’s dark out there — and sometimes, it can even be dangerous, especially for women. Burner — a company that lets people create temporary phone numbers — markets itself as an option for online daters (or journalists) who have yet to vet matches in person. Today, the company is launching a new experiment in modern dating called Ghostbot. The name about sums it up; it’s a bot that ghosts people for you. Ghosting implies that one person in the relationship stops responding entirely to texts and phone calls. Ghostbot differs in that it keeps communication going, but with the goal of discouraging the texter.
Burner partnered with an outside firm, Voxable, to bring Ghostbot to life. The company created the bot based off API.ai and has it running a natural language processing engine to reply to messages. As for Ghostbot’s responses, a screenwriter crafted the replies after analyzing text exchanges between daters and the people they wanted to cut off. Voxable and Burner view their creation as an option for women who often find that an unreciprocated text can lead to physical threats or a barrage of derogatory messages. With that in mind, product designer Lauren Golembiewski told The Verge that the team tried to find a balance between being assertive and powerful while not inviting further confrontation.
My friend and editor Paul Miller put the bot to the test. Here’s what went down with screenshots from Paul's iPhone perspective and my Burner app. Note that the text bubbles switch sides in Burner:
Burner says our tester bot didn’t respond as naturally as it will following the launch and that the bot will eventually end conversations before they start going in circles. Honestly, I'm not sure what I would think if I received these texts. I guess it would deter me from texting again? I didn’t get a notification that Paul had texted me, so in the real world, I would have been actively turning someone down without being aware it was happening in that moment.
Burner doesn’t necessarily expect people to use Ghostbot. "Part of this [effort] is meant to provoke thinking about how people are going to interact in the future and how machines will play into that," CEO Greg Cohn said in an interview with The Verge. "Like, if you don’t treat me the right way you're going to talk to my machine."
if you don’t treat me right, you get the bot
Using the bot, it’s clear this is more of a proof of concept and commentary on modern relationships than a practical solution. I’m not ready to outsource my ghosting and dating to an algorithm. There’s gotta be some heart in dating still, right? I’d also rather see a threatening or graphic text than live in ignorance about it, but I understand the appeal for women (or men!) who deal with unwanted attention or negative messages.
I told a friend about Ghostbot, and he suggested that he’d know a robot was responding. Okay. Doubtful. But maybe in the near future, bots will be doing all our bidding for us — ordering a pizza, a car, and a new boyfriend after our respective bots hit it off. I can’t wait to meet my new bot man. The future of dating looks bright.