It’s 2024, and robots officially have more rizz than you. This isn’t all that surprising. If you’re a regular on Hinge or Bumble, you know the bar for banter is pretty low. I would know, I’ve been trying to think of a clever response to “Hey” since I rejoined the apps after my move to Denver.

It’s that surface-level chitchat that often makes what should be fun and flirty feel tedious and tiresome. I’m not alone in my feelings of fatigue. In a study organized by Singles Reports, a team of statisticians that focus on dating trends, nearly 80 percent of participants (ages 18 to 54) reported feeling some degree of emotional burnout from dating apps.

But what if you could outsource the small talk to a trusted friend? Or, better yet, a robot version of yourself? That’s the idea behind the new app Volar, which first launched in Austin, Texas, in December 2023 before expanding to Denver and the rest of the U.S. two months ago. “I came up with Volar to try to streamline the awkward icebreaker stages for you, and hopefully pass you into the stage of trying to actually build human connection,” says CEO Ben Chiang, who previously worked on artificial intelligence for Snapchat and Uber.

In the Volar app, users chat with an AI avatar that learns their interests, personality traits, preferences, and whatever else is important to them when it comes to looking for love. Then, the AI avatar goes on simulated first dates with other users’ chatbots to see if there’s a spark. Ultimately, you get to decide whether or not you’ll take over the conversation from your virtual assistant, but the idea is that your robots will do the dirty work of determining compatibility before you waste your time.

Considering I currently have about eight Bumble conversations going about the Avs or my favorite houseplants, I figured it’s time to see if an avatar might have better luck. So, I set up an account and sent the cyborgs on an internet search for my soulmate.

How Volar Works

Volar is free to download for iPhone users (sorry, no AI dating for Android owners yet), and the onboarding process only takes about 15 minutes. But despite its simplicity, this step is critical: This is where you teach your AI bot to be you. You start with the basics—name, age, city, and phone number (to weed out fake users)—before turning to the nitty-gritty. The chatbot asks you to describe yourself the way you would to a new friend. Whatever you choose to emphasize in this introduction (career, hobbies, personality traits, etc.) guides the rest of the onboarding conversation.

During my initial chat with my avatar, I mentioned that I like to run and watch hockey. The avatar asked follow-up questions about where I like to run (a little creepy) and which hockey team I root for (important). It’s up to you how much information you divulge, but whatever secrets you share with your avatar could come up in your simulated first dates (so maybe don’t tell it about that time you puked in an Uber). This is also the stage where you outline preferences such as gender, age, and proximity.

After the onboarding session, your avatar immediately speed dates other users, which is to say, it flies through every profile that meets your requirements and simulates a conversation. Technologically speaking, the whole process takes a matter of moments, but you only receive up to three matches a day. For each of the three, you can see a simulated “first date,” which is really just a series of messages (usually about 10) between the two bots about likes and dislikes you’ve mentioned to your AI assistant. If you like what you read, you can send a message request to chat human to human.

AI Dating in Action

A conversation between the author’s AI bot and another user’s bot. Photo courtesy of Jessica Giles

After I got my virtual assistant up to speed on all of my charming qualities—and absolutely none of my flaws—I unleashed it to the world. I received my first three matches within the hour, but I wasn’t exactly hearing wedding bells. Two of my three matches lived outside Colorado, and the Denver-based guy seemed like a scam artist who was more interested in my social security number than my phone number. Despite telling my virtual assistant that I’m looking for someone around my age within 20 miles, I’ve continued to get matches—some in their 60s—in New York City, Las Vegas, and even Alberta, Canada. Of my 94 current matches, only six are from Denver. This issue will likely be resolved if the app grows in popularity, but for now, there just aren’t enough users in the Denver area. (When I asked Chiang how many people from the Denver metro area had signed up, he conceded, “It’s probably not a ton.”)

I also noticed that my avatar was taking some creative liberties. In one simulated first date, my chatbot mentioned that I make a mean Thai curry (I do not). In another, it told my prospective suitor that I like to watch anime (I couldn’t name one). Apparently, I also have a dog named Finn (Chester, but close), love the book Where the Crawdads Sing (never read it), and dabble in adventure gaming (does Mario Kart count?).

These little white lies are actually called hallucinations in tech speak, and they typically happen when AI isn’t given sufficient training or is lacking context. Since I only gave my avatar a 15-minute crash course in my life, it often just made things up to fill in the gaps. Chiang says that users can reduce the amount of hallucinations their avatar has by giving more details during the onboarding process. You can also return to your virtual assistant at any time to correct information it got wrong and home in your preferences. Or, use your AI’s fact errors for a little flirty banter, Chiang suggests.

“It’s not amazing, but we think it’s positive,” he says. “It’s a very easy way to build a connection with somebody, to be like, ‘Man, my AI is crazy.’ ”

The Final Verdict on Volar

Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten the chance to transform my AI’s inaccuracies into a human spark because I haven’t received a match that meets my most basic preferences (age and location). Perhaps if I were looking for a long-distance lover in Las Vegas or a 67-year-old sugar daddy in Denver, Volar would be my ideal wingman, but for now, the user database just isn’t robust enough.

After using the app for several weeks, I also noticed that most of my “first dates” were very similar. Since the AI avatar only uses the information I provided in the onboarding process, it ends up chatting about the same things over and over again. Ultimately, I am not really getting to know my matches either because I don’t trust that all the information the bot shares is true.

For now, I think I’ll be giving robot dating a rest and go back to my tried-and-true tactic: looking confused at a Rockies game.

Jessica Giles
Jessica Giles
Jessica is a senior associate editor on 5280's digital team.