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Don't 'ghost' on a date: Ghostbot is the app that'll break things off for you

The Guardian logo The Guardian 27-06-2016 Olivia Solon
Ghostbot might send the poop emoji or the thumbs down sign when it detects a lewd comment or a ‘booty call’ text. © Alamy Ghostbot might send the poop emoji or the thumbs down sign when it detects a lewd comment or a ‘booty call’ text.

Rejecting unwanted suitors over text is an awkward challenge for a generation of online daters. So why not outsource the thorny interaction to a robot?

Ghostbot will detect incoming texts from the person you’ve chosen to “ghost” – a modern (and cowardly) dating trend that involves ceasing all communication with an unwanted suitor – and send automated responses, lacking in warmth of enthusiasm, until the other person takes the hint.

For example, if the other person pushes for a date, Ghostbot might reply: “Nope,” “I just have no time right now,” or “Sorry, just me and [pizza emoji] tonight.” This continues until the pestering messages peter out.

“We hear a lot of anecdotes about terrible texting from dating matches, but sometimes blocking someone creates an awkward social circumstance. Ghostbot helps you go through the motion of ghosting someone without negative consequences,” said Will Carter, co-founder of Ad Hoc Labs, which makes Ghostbot.

Ghostbot is built to be used with an app called Burner, which allows you to create alternative temporary phone numbers to give people – be they online dating matches, sales associates or anyone you want to conceal your real number from.

The Burner team worked with bot-makers Voxable and screenwriter Peter Miriani to ensure the chatbot had a more human personality.

“It’s designed to be noncommittal but also have a little bit of snark or character when it interprets a message that’s provocative,” said Carter.

This means Ghostbot might send the poop emoji or the thumbs down sign when it detects a lewd comment or a “booty call” text. “We didn’t want the bot to escalate or be too over-the-top or mean,” he said.

Carter doesn’t recommend using Ghostbot for ending long-term relationships. “It’s really designed with a specific use case of empowering people to not to have to deal with uncomfortable situations,” he said.

The bot isn’t going to pass the Turing Test any time soon, but that hasn’t stopped people who tested the app from trying to make Ghostbot change its mind.

“People sometimes try to make the bot like them. It won’t, even if the person is completely charming,” said Carter. 

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