This one is a small Future Fiction piece. Enjoy!
Paris May 23rd 2023
She put the phone to her ear, called out “Hello?” louder than she had originally intended, paused, followed up with a “Yes, this is she…” with a slightly lower pitch – hoping it was the volume expected from someone taking a real call. Unsure if it was because she was a great actress or whether passerbys fundamentally couldn’t care less, but they all ignored her.
She nonchalantly scanned the place Denfert Rochereau. He had to be here, she could feel it. This had to be the place, the time. A tall man with a dirty PSG cap jogged in her direction. She froze, mentally removing the cap, shaving him, and overlapping his picture. Before she had completed her processing, he was at her level and swerved at the last second, puffing under his breath, “Mais dégage toi, qu’est-ce tu fous la!” Probably wasn’t him.
She suddenly realized it had been way too long since her “Yes, this is she…”. Was it “she” you were supposed to say? She had googled it several times, had felt comforted she wasn’t the only one wondering what to say when someone asked for you on the phone, yet could never recall the answer. “This is me”? “This is her”?
A few extra seconds lost. “Ah very interesting!” was all she could come up with. She continued scrutinizing strangers’ faces as past sailors in the crow’s nest had scanned for pirate ships centuries before. The threat could come from any direction. Except in her case it wasn’t a threat, it was the love of her life, her soul mate, she knew it. She just didn’t know him.
Everything had started at the beginning of her European trip while in Italy, more precisely in Pisa. Google Photos had suggested she try out a brand new feature still in early development. By providing her consent, she allowed the app to share all pictures of other people’s pictures in which she figured one way or another. It seemed intriguing and having already consented so much of her personal life to Google, Facebook, Snapchat, anyways, she clicked on.
The webpage indicated it would take a few minutes to perform the search and render the pictures. In the meantime, she had brushed her teeth, mildly excited at what she would discover. And as much as she hated to admit it, the idea of accessing private pictures of thousands?, millions? of other people’s pictures mildly aroused her. The peeping tom fantasy. What if she was in the far background of someone taking a picture of two other people having sex? She could do without flossing for one night, and raced back to her laptop like a rabid dog – the toothpaste foam still in the corner of her mouth not helping.
The screen was filled with pictures, and at first she thought it was a bug in the code. She couldn’t see herself anywhere. But that was the millennial reflex of looking at the people in the foreground of the selfie. That wasn’t where she was supposed to be. And then she saw herself a first time, the brunette over there tying her shoelace against the small fence, that was her! There again, it was her, walking determined down the road. It was hard to put a date and location on the pictures, three quarters of the picture taken up by narcissistic strangers and her as a blurry detail in the back. But that was her sure enough. She continued scanning the pictures one by one, an infinite succession of crossovers between “where’s Waldo” and “choose your own adventure”.
It was around the fiftieth picture that something struck her. In the picture, she was walking with her best friend Samantha – had to be Indianapolis then – but the man on the left from the group photo looked eerily familiar. She scrolled up a bit and gasped. There he was again, with a different group of friends. In that picture, she was jogging in her black leggings and pink fluorescent sports bra. The one that made her boobs bigger, just in case. She continued scrolling, no longer searching for herself, but for the dark-haired unibrowed stranger she shared two pictures with. What were the odds?
A few pictures later, she saw him again. He was bare-chest on the beach, flexing his biceps. He wasn’t particularly fit but seeing him display so much flesh aroused her a bit more. She scrolled further, there he was again, and again, and again. By the greatest coincidences, they seemed to have been be in the same places at the same time for the better part of the last ten years. If that wasn’t a soul mate, then what was?
For the last three days, she had furiously scanned every touristic area she had gone through from Pisa to Marseille and Paris. They had been in the same place and same time so many times, it was bound to happen again! She scanned again, but soon realized she was starting to look insane with her pretend phone call as she spun around like a dervish on meth. She walked slowly back to her hotel, pulled open the lobby door and bumped into a man coming out. As a reflex she blurted out a “Excuse me” instead of the local “Excusez-moi”, then raised her eyes, The man stared at her wide-eyed. It was him. And he had recognized her too.
Mountain View, June 23rd 2023
“And then what happened?”
Jimmy smiled at his audience. They had taken him for a lunatic just fifteen minutes ago, but were now on the edge of their seats as he went from one 3D slide to the next.
He paused to make them beg for the answer to the cliffhanger.
“Well, like 87% of others in our beta program, Stephanie and Nicolas are dating now, and have been for a month”.
Small “ooohs” in the room.
“87%? That can’t be right. The best dating algorithms having access to way more data don’t even get values past the high twenties.” Ajay, always sceptical. And probably upset as the next promo wasn’t going to go his way this time around.
“That’s true”, replied Jimmy who had anticipated the question. “But the best matchmaking algorithms miss the point. They try to predict chemistry by asking if you’re a dog or cat person. If you prefer vanilla or chocolate ice-cream. But that doesn’t mean anything! Common liking does not predict chemistry well enough. Plus, we’re not trying to predict chemistry, we’re trying to create it!”
“And photoshopping a person’s pictures into another’s creates chemistry?”
“Of course it does! Pictures are the answer. If the same person keeps popping up in the same cities, the same places, the same times as you, it’s like he or she is haunting you. They have got to be the perfect match! In other words, we integrate our two lovers in a double narcissism effect.”
“What happens after the first few days of dating when you realize they aren’t a perfect match?”
“Aha, well that’s the beauty of the brain: once it is convinced of something, the coherence principle takes over. Even while faced with contradicting facts, the mind will ignore them, refusing to admit that it was wrong to believe the other was a soul mate.”
“But how do you make them meet in real life?”
“Great question! This is where we leverage the rest of our Google products. With email and maps we know when and where people will be. So in the case of Stephanie and Nicolas, we knew they would both be in the same hotel in Paris over the same dates. We just backfill from there, take Nicolas’s pictures with no discerning background and insert Stephanie, take all of her pictures and insert Nicolas.”
He paused again, and stressed his French accent to deliver the ultimate romantic punchline. “And voilà, let me introduce you to… Google Dating!”