Polynomial Curve Fitting: Dating for the Data-set by Jen Reid

Arithmetic is distasteful gibberish sent to earth to occupy the minds of somnambulant automatons. The real opiate of the masses is rote knowledge of the times-tables. That’s what machines are for. The mysteries of the numerical world lie elsewhere.

Take the dream of true love, for example. For many of us, the equation is simple: 1+1=2. However, in reality, the formulae are endless.

Not long ago I was at a party discussing string theory with a physicist and the quirks and quarks were flying. I nudged my friend and asked about the good professor’s status. “He’s polyamorous, bi, in a relationship, but open!” Which I think officially looks something like

(1x + 1) × (x ÷ 2) + y, x=∞, y=me?

Call me a square, but I was having better luck grasping the concept of wormholes in the fourth dimension!

That’s when I realised it was time to stop trying to solve the one-plus-one problem myself. The solution was obvious. All I needed to do was put the world of pattern recognition and machine learning to work for me and “determine a rejection criterion” that would “minimize the misclassification rate, or more generally the expected loss, for a given fraction of rejected data points” and “problem domains”!

Reduce the risk! Tame chance! Classify the probabilities! Join the mathematical love-in!

That’s right. I’m talking about dating for the Data-set. Ok, cupid!

How many times have you heard someone say, “someday, when you least expect it, you’ll meet the One”? That annoying platitude must reference the Bayesian approach to probabilities, which suggests that uncertainty can actually be quantified through subjective experience. In other words, really, one day, you will meet Mr. or Ms Right, simply because it does happen. Of course this Pollyanna view is in total opposition to your “frequentist” or “classical”, downtrodden, down-at-the-mouth view of probability, in which prior measured data – such as the fact you haven’t had a date in 10 years or that people keep dumping your sorry ass – is the sole arbiter of what gonna happen next: nil, nix, nada. In other words, really, you’re screwed.

Good news for you! Survey says Pollyanna is correct, especially if you enter the world of online dating.

What we have come to believe is this: with a few simple keystrokes you can harness the power of the 21st century to weed out the crazies, the miscreants, and the undesirables, and find your perfect match from among an ideal selection of possible mates culled from a limited data set controlled by your own fantasy criteria! Probability says you will find the one, now! Not in that dreamy “someday”. No more waiting. No more relationship errors! No more needle-in-a-haystack, frequentist, dating depression! There are bots for that!

Did you know that we have the rise of gambling and insurance in the 18th century to thank for our advanced understanding and handling of probabilities? Did you know that we owe our bot-filled universe to our collective obsession with civilizing the unknown and a penchant for automation? As Pierre-Simon Laplace said in his Théorie Analytique des Probabilities (1812), “probability theory is nothing but common sense reduced to calculation”. Today, bots are the soldiery of this reductive principle operating in our daily lives.

It took centuries for us to outsource the insane amounts of computational power required to achieve the kind of pattern recognition necessary to create a world of error-minimization, maximum likelihoods, and a vast array of accurate predictions, including those pertaining to “The Future”. We have developed a belief that random is impossible, and that there ought to be an end to anomalies, accidents, acts of God, mistakes, and emergencies. We have risk-managed ourselves to the hilt. The personal implication of such a belief system is that if you’re not in total control, you’re making a mess of your life. Likewise, if you’re single and not online dating, you’re not really trying, are you? The One may pass you by!

Ironically, now that we live in a world in which we have allowed the soldiery a little too much power, we have to work back from calculation to retrieve common sense. Enter online dating guru Laurie Davis, whose book Love @ First Click amounts to the following observation: online dating is not dating, it’s “online meeting” brokered by bots. She admonishes us to use the tool judiciously to make a connection, then get offline, off search-engines, and outta the prison of algorithms as quickly as possible! According to her, while the data set you’re working off may be promising, the reality is that randomness rules once the math is done. You also have to adjust your filters routinely.

Has “online meeting” changed my prospects? Not so much. In fact, my problem isn’t meeting people, it’s meeting the right person, in the right circumstances, at the right time. I saw quickly that the prospect of polynomial curve fitting, online style, is a bit of an illusion in that respect. Unless I want to make it a full-time job. Or don’t mind routinely poking my eye out with a stick for something to do while listening to crashing bores drone on about nothing at all. And that’s with a botted-up vetting system in place!

Why did I think that the outcome of automated dating would be any more exciting than settling down to learn my seven times-table?

Random works because it is elusive, it is anomalous, it is unexpected, and it is everywhere. It is constantly being reinvented. Today, its dark side is observed in the tactics of terrorism, where the rules of pattern, conformity, and normalization are used against themselves. Its light side is two strangers meeting and feeling that strange click that can only come from the hum-drum of predictability momentarily shuddering to a halt in an unexpected flash of recognition.

Our bot soldiery has reinforced the perception that we can successfully target the important stuff and discard the rest as “noise”. This clinical silence has put us to sleep. In the eternal words of Slade, we have to wake up and “feel the noise” if we want to be alert to the possibilities right in front of us. Probabilities be damned! Online dating may improve your numbers, but it does not mitigate chance. The likelihood that your Mr. or Ms Right lurks in a pool of a pool within a pool in which the spawn of Satan subsists is no greater on an online dating site than among the general population and amid the “randomness” offline.

Instead of playing the dating game with a machine and machine rules, I’ve decided to throw my lot in with the unpredictable, shifting formulae of my own bad math. I’m going to concentrate on self-selecting not with the help of bots, but with my own common sense.


Jen Reid is an academic and writer living globally.


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