Like many beautiful, single girls her age, 24-year-old Sunny Xu has received lots of advice from friends and family about dating.

A native of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, she has met a few boys online. Although their profiles appeared impressive – good-looking, similar age and stable salary – they did not quite measure up in the flesh.

“Some of them don’t know how to find a proper topic to start the conversation,” said Xu. “One time, someone asked why my online replies were slow – which was rude and irritating.”

Finding a good match in life is an age-old problem and online dating is merely the latest innovation to try and ease the process. Today, there are websites for every age group and sexual orientation. It is now easy to cross an ocean for love but finding a true match, a genuine soul mate remains as hard as ever. That is why many now think artificial intelligence (AI) can lend a helping hand – by connecting people more accurately based on their personality, preferences and outlook on life.

When Kevin Teman was in his late 20s, he had a lot of trouble of dating. Teman, who grew up in Orange County, California, gave up on meeting people via chance encounters and eventually turned to human matchmaking services. Based on his experience of their detailed profiling techniques aimed at matching people with genuine interests in common, he is now applying that to his start-up – which provides young people with an AI dating coach.

“Using matchmaking services is the closest I’ve ever been to finding my true someone,” said Teman. “So I’ve taken similar techniques but applied them in a more modern setting and with new technology.”

The 36-year-old developer, who has degrees in both psychology and business, founded US-based start-up AIMM in 2017, which calls itself “the next-generation matchmaking service” on its Facebook page.

No more swiping. AI assistants offer a more conversational approach to finding "the one." (Picture: Shutterstock)

The AI dating software – which has a human-like, female voice – starts with questions about your personality and likes, such as imagining your perfect home or whether you are a morning or late night person. It will keep asking you for a week before it starts to send you a potential match. It will serve as your companion until you find a good match – offering dating advice and collecting feedback along the way. Users are charged a monthly fee of HK$198 (US$25.24).

“It will coach you on what to do on your date,” said Teman. “Some advice is personal, it will make suggestions based on an assessment, such as ‘he or she is a traditional person and so I'd recommend dinner and then maybe a walk around the block afterwards.’”

The most important part is to figure out what the chemistry is like during the date.

“The middle person [AI matchmaker] can share feedback with each individual,” said Teman. “In real life you can't really ask a new person whether they like you or not on the spot – it’s too hard and could end the relationship immediately – but a central matchmaker can help to figure that out.”

To be sure, questionnaire-based matching is not new but it’s taken a long time to morph into the $12 billion online dating industry we see today. In 1995, Gary Kremen and Peng T Ong founded Match in San Francisco, which allowed people to browse and find matches based on personal criteria, using algorithms to improve the chances of hook-up success. Tinder has taken this a step further by adjusting potential matches based on a user’s profile and activity.

And AIMM is not the only dating service to use AI as your wingman or wingwoman.

Match, which now serves 25 countries including the US and UK, teamed up with Google to launch a dating assistant named Lara, who can provide you with conversation openers and ideal date location suggestions, among other things. Loveflutter, launched in 2014, is a London-based AI service that tries to gauge a personality match by reading your Twitter profile and tweets.

Beyond all of these though is DNA matchmaking.

Young people in Japan are signing up for a DNA matchmaking service from Nozze, which works with scientists at a Tokyo laboratory to help people find their perfect match based on genetic compatibility.

Matches on Nozze are based on a scientific finding that people who have the most diverse DNA will attract each other. In June, Nozze held a “DNA Party” in Japan where all 26 attendees provided a saliva swab for DNA collection.

Back in China, another age-old problem is rearing its head. Sunny Xu’s dad has joined a WeChat marriage group for concerned parents looking to match up their kids with suitable partners. In big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, parents even post their children's profiles in public parks, where there are ‘marriage boards’.

“It’s because they [parents] feel like they have no other choice but I personally don’t think this works,” said Shi Yuqian, a Chinese film worker living in the UK, who said that most young people today like having control over their personal information.

That raises the question over whether it’s healthy for a machine to know everything about you.

“It can be very dangerous, especially from a data privacy angle,” said Yan Suji, the founder of Shanghai-based digital privacy start-up Dimension. “It also means people are not using their own abilities to find love.”

In China, authorities have taken down several apps in recent months over privacy and content concerns. China’s Tinder-like app Tantan closed its social posting section in May for one month to “implement content safety measures and create a healthy and positive social environment,” according to a public notice.

Teman thinks privacy concerns are hard to avoid with new technology and need careful handling.

“We have to be responsible and protect people’s data, which means only using it for the provided purpose.”