Forget dating apps, the Sixties had ''computer matchmaking''
The trend was so popular, a number of classic TV shows got in on the electronic love act.
TACT is not just a good attribute to have on a first date, it was also an acronym for Technical Automated Compatibility Testing, a computerized dating service founded in New York City in the 1960s.
Inspired by a pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, where a computer picked international pen pals for anyone who filled out a questionnaire, accountant Lewis Altfest wondered if the same idea could be applied to find a date in a local area. He partnered with a computer programmer friend at IBM, Robert Ross, and together they came up with TACT.
They weren’t the first to merge computers and matchmaking. A trio of Harvard students came up with a similar scheme called Operation Match and services had existed in Europe for years, but Altfest and Ross’ company was one of the most well-known.
They garnered plenty of free publicity and even threw parties in New York City parks to attract participants. With a complete questionnaire and five dollars, each person received the contact information of up to 30 potential dates over a four-month period.
Matches were made based on three levels of criteria: social and cultural factors, opinions and values, and “psychological” compatibility, which Ross defined as having “complimentary needs for each other.”
Men were asked which hairstyles they liked on women and women were asked which activities, like chopping wood at a campsite or painting at an art studio, they found most attractive in a man. Participants were also asked to choose four things they disliked from a list that included “free love,” “pseudo-intellectuals” and “rock ’n’ roll.” The questionnaires were turned into punch cards, fed into the machines which then calculated matches.
The room-sized IBM computers powering the whole endeavor were far from perfect, however. A brother and sister were matched once. Ross related to the BBC that one couple who had recently broken off their engagement found themselves linked together again by TACT. They decided it was fate and got married.
Even though computerized dating had many failings, TV shows couldn’t help but jump on the trend. In fact, the confusion created by machine matchmakers was ripe for parody in sitcoms, sci-fi shows and even police procedurals. Everything from My Three Sons to The Twilight Zone to Adam-12 had episodes revolving around computers and love.
Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies tried computer dating as did Gomer Pyle. The newfangled courtship even made it to Hooterville in Green Acres. The trend continued into the Seventies in shows like The Odd Couple, Three’s Company and The Love Boat.
TACT fizzled out after a few years and other companies came and went over the decades. The internet added a whole new dimension to computerized dating, bringing potential matches to your desktop and now the phone in your pocket.
Even if technological advances have made the process more streamlined, the success rate hasn’t seemed to improve much.
Did you ever try a computerized matchmaking service back in the day?