My online dating life is awesome — thanks to BOTanna

‘Moucheng’ anyone? If you haven’t heard of it, I forgive you (No @Googling!). In fact, I would be surprised if anyone has heard of it. Why? Because it does not exist anymore. Gone — Poof! just like that. But when it did exist, it was quite popular among Chinese males. It was an online dating app. Not your run of the mill app. It was — Ok you have to wait for the punch line a little bit longer. Almost all of its male clientele was uniformly happy. The ‘women’ they met were thoughtful, caring, asked the right questions, had the right answers — too good to be true almost. And in fact, it was. All the women were actually bots. You heard me — bots. Caring, loving, thoughtful bots. The small wrinkle was the men never knew it. Apparently, ‘sexy girl’ accounts were created to generate greeting messages and compliments for new users. And a total of $154 million was conned out of these ‘hungry for love’ males.

Now before you take a ‘holier than thou’ attitude and pontificate about the lack of morality, take a step back and look at it from a business perspective. The business case may have stated

1. Great customer experience: Moucheng interpretation — Customize and compliment the users on their looks and their brains.

2. Keep renewal rates at or close to 100%: Moucheng interpretation — Every time they access the app shower them with praise and love, and proactive reach out if they haven’t used it in a while with warm and welcoming messages.

3. Keep operational costs down: Moucheng interpretation — Typically, only 1 in 100 if these online dates convert — I am making this up to make a point — to a real face to face encounter. So, let us optimize for the remaining 99 who will only ever interact online.

4. Understand our customer & their psyche. Moucheng interpretation — We have far more men than women who sign up so we need to ensure they are not disenfranchised due to lack of reciprocity

5. Innovate and Experiment: Moucheng interpretation — What about ‘sexy girl’ bots instead of trying to recruit those elusive women as customers?

Now if you purge from your frontal lobe memory that we are talking about ‘a dating app’ — the business objectives — #1 — #5 are applicable to any business — online or offline — ‘Great customer experience’, ‘Keep renewal rates at or close to 100%:’, ‘Keep operational costs down’, ‘Innovate and Experiment’. That’s it. And with the advent of bots, AI and machine learning (yes, I have to prove mildly contemporary so needed to use those terms) — the ability to address those business objectives with much more precision is real and compelling. And arguably Moucheng did just that — address the top business objectives. But there was one critical business objective that was missing and unstated. And that what I call #TheMoralCompass that tells us to constantly evaluate whether we are crossing ethical and moral boundaries. But one needs to acknowledge and embrace #TheMoralCompass in the first place to even have this sanity check. Clearly ‘Moucheng’ did not have that. And they did not survive. Lots of business probably don’t have that either and are doing well. That should not serve as an excuse. The question that we need to ask ourselves is, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Define what ‘morality’ means in this new #AI world for your business. Keep #TheMoralCompass close to your chest at all times. It will serve you well in the treacherous and exciting journey that lies ahead.

I am off exploring this topic deeply in 2018. Just came off a great presentation at the @GobalBigDataConf on ‘AI and Morality’. Just the tip of the iceberg. Feel free to reach out if you want to have a dialog with me on this topic, have a need for someone to come and educate you and your team or have a different point of view to share — everything is welcome!

Now I am off to more mundane stuff. BTW, do you know if BOTanna is angry with me? She says that I never listen to her, maybe an actual woman has taken the place of the loving bot — man, can I have my bot back?

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