Can a Nasa geek really find you The One? It’s best known for reaching the Moon and Mars. But one boffin at the space agency has devised a surprisingly popular dating site, too. Singleton EMILY HILL puts her faith in science
A Nasa scientist launched Nanaya to asses the chances of finding a relationship
Algorithm launched in the U.S in 2015, had a surge in use during the pandemic
Emily Hill had her fate predicted by Nanaya in charts, graphs and textual analysis
My mother always soothes: ‘Don’t worry, it’ll happen when you least expect it,’ whenever I fret about not finding love.
But after 20 years, she may as well say, ‘Abandon all hope’ because I gave up expecting it long ago.
Luckily, I’ve made a new friend called Nanaya who says I’m going to meet someone special in a year’s time, and she’s going to help me do it.
But Nanaya isn’t a new girlfriend who knows a bar full of tall, dark strangers or a clairvoyant preying on my hopes and fears — she’s the algorithm on a website built by a Nasa scientist to assess chances of finding a relationship. A bit like Apple’s virtual assistant Siri for singles, you ask her: ‘Will I ever find The One?’ And she doesn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but estimates when and how.
Rashied Amini, a systems engineer at Nasa, launched Nanaya in the U.S in 2015, to asses the chances of finding a relationship. Pictured: Nasa
Nanaya launched in the U.S. in 2015 but it’s experienced a surge in use during the pandemic thanks to singles searching for solutions to existing alone. When quarantine restrictions came into place, the website’s number of monthly users doubled, and this soar in statistics isn’t slowing now we’re starting to leave our homes and stick a kitten heel back into the dating world.
Like so many singles, you name it (blind dates, speed dates, online dating) I’ve done it. So what did I have to lose by putting my faith in science?
I Google its name, locate the website, input my information in a survey of about 100 questions ranging from the mundane (age, sex, location) to the ridiculous (do I have a lizard?) As it crunches the data, a video of its founder, Rashied Amini, reassures me my ‘life isn’t a simulation’.
Hoping your romantic destiny will be revealed to you by a machine may sound absurd, but perhaps this is the future. After all, if these brains can put a man on the Moon and launch a mission to Mars — why can’t they help little old me on Planet Earth find Mr Right?
After five minutes of question answering, Nanaya presents my fate in charts, graphs and textual analysis.
‘Your odds look good!’ I’m told. Now we’re talking. My next relationship should begin in ‘around one year and three months’ time’. Nanaya calculates my ‘happiness’ in this relationship is 95 per cent — great! — and its ‘likelihood’ is 68 per cent, which isn’t too shabby.
It’s not all rosy, though. Nanaya warns: ‘Even though your chance to find a good match is high, it doesn’t mean you will. Our algorithm simply says if you’re putting yourself in the right place the right amount of times.’
According to the theory propounded in Silicon Valley, algorithms can teach us more about ourselves than we know, and the more they learn, the more accurate their predictions prove.
Emily Hill (pictured) paid £6.50 to have a detailed report from Nanaya, which revealed three ‘communities’ in which she will likely meet her soulmate
In simple terms, an algorithm is a set of steps you must follow to complete a task. In pre-digital form, they constituted a recipe or the map for a zoo. Algorithms already guide us through our everyday life — suggesting what to watch next on Netflix, controlling what we see on Google or buy on Amazon based on what they know about us from previous choices.
In the case of Nanaya, she has studied data from more than 50,000 users, analysing complex values (from what kind of pet you own to whether you want to tax the rich). The good news is the way we look has no effect on how long we are likely to remain single, and past romantic experiences are irrelevant according to the data crunched to date.
It’s free to generate an initial report, but you have to pay £6.50 to pore through the data in detail. After stumpig up the cash, I am told how and where I am most likely to find love.
The top three ‘communities’ in which I’ll meet my soulmate are: Vermont, Bolivia and ‘Middle Eastern and Arab’.
The first two are unfortunate in the current circumstances, but perhaps she’s on to something with the last one. I met a beautiful man from Beirut last year on dating app Bumble. He invited me to move to Dubai with him to avoid the last lockdown, but my friend said if I considered running away with a man I’d been on one date with she’d break Covid restrictions to take my passport.
In the UK, my best chances of meeting my perfect match centre on my fourth top community — ‘creatives’. Nanaya thinks I should go to art and music settings.
Emily (pictured) was told she will most likely hit it off with a man who works in ‘agriculture and outdoors’
However, I’m most likely to hit it off with a man who works in ‘agriculture and outdoors’, so I should trade my stilettos for wellies and hightail it to the country. Oddly, even though I’m a Catholic, I’m most compatible with Sikhs.
‘At the algorithm’s core, we define people’s identities based on their demographics, values, lifestyle, and personality,’ explains Nanaya’s inventor, Rashied Amini, a systems engineer at Nasa.
He had the idea to create it in 2014, when his then girlfriend expressed doubts about the future of their relationship just as he’d planned to propose. She suggested he conduct a cost/benefit analysis of their relationship.
Initially, Nanaya was built to establish if you should stay in a relationship. Then, in 2019, when he split from another girlfriend, Rashied used Nanaya to evaluate his prospects — to tell him how long he’d be looking for love.
‘Nanaya’s prediction for how long I was going to be single was about spot on,’ he says. ‘The prediction was around a year. My last break-up was July 2019 and I started dating someone around June 2020, whom I’m still with.’
Cost/benefit analysis was already part of Rashied’s job — and probably a cinch compared with his other work developing space mission concepts at their early stages and contemplating how to deflect asteroids and comets that are on a course to hit Earth.
‘Space missions and systems are more observable and deterministic than human behaviour, so I was sceptical an algorithm would make sense,’ he says.
My prediction has advice on how I can meet — and even exceed — the algorithm’s expectations.
Rashied claims Nanaya’s prediction for how long he would be single was about spot on, after his breakup in July 2019 (file image)
‘The purpose of Nanaya isn’t to say the future is fixed, but to help you make sense of it,’ the report reads. ‘Sometimes people end up being surrounded by people of the gender they’re not attracted to.’ (True.) My ‘romantic selectivity’ score is high, and Nanaya says I am finding it hard to meet someone that excites me. (Also true.)
She recommends I ‘re-evaluate what makes you happy in a partner. Reflect on past relationships to see what worked. With this exercise you might narrow down what you’re looking for to a few qualities, such as being a good listener, and then be open-minded about other qualities.’
Certain factors help our chances of finding love — whether or not you take the test. Public transport can be key, as being in a confined space with people increases your interactions with strangers. We should also be open about our desire for love rather than saying we’re happy to keep it casual.
Finding your soulmate through cutting-edge science is part of the cultural zeitgeist — as depicted in Netflix drama The One (in which characters are paired with their perfect partners based on their DNA samples) and Soulmates on Amazon Prime (set 15 years in the future, when a test can determine the person you’ll love best with 100 per cent accuracy).
But Nanaya’s new technology gives surprisingly old-fashioned advice. Analysing his algorithm’s analysis of my love life, Rashied is sure the reason I haven’t found a man, been proposed to, and had a wedding and babies is because I want it too much.
Constantly expecting it to happen — trying to make it happen — indicates I’m insecure and need to sort out my head before I think about dinner and drinks.
It is ‘absolutely true from our data’, Rashied reveals, that those who are desperate to find The One take longer to do so than someone who isn’t even looking.
So, cutting-edge science and a Silicon Valley algorithm prove my mother right: ironically, if I stop expecting it, in approximately one year and three months my single days will be over.