Tag: Liberty Vittert

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. Love is in the air … and on the internet, where many singles will turn to score a date. About 30% of U.S. adults—including 53% of people under 30—have used a dating site or app, according to 2022 Pew Research Center data. According to the same survey, 40% of users say online dating has made the search for a long-time partner easier.


Dating apps make no secret of their use of artificial intelligence (AI) to help users find their perfect match, although just how the algorithms work is less clear. Many of the most popular dating apps — including Tinder, Bumble, eHarmony and OKCupid — use the data you provide and your interactions within the apps to curate lists of potential matches, making the sea of fish a little bit smaller and more manageable, said Liberty Vittert, a professor of practice of data science at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.

But recent reports of online dating app users employing AI to strike up conversations and flirt with matches—or worse, scam them—have some saying AI has gone too far.  

Romance ‘beyond reach’ for robots

Plenty of would-be suitors—fictional and real—have sought help to woo their love interests. Who can forget “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the 19th-century play that tells the story of a man who helps his inarticulate rival win Roxanne’s heart by feeding him love poems and letters? But human romance is beyond reach, currently, for robots, Vittert said.

“Robots don’t have human emotions. We are actually a long way away from what we see in movies,” Vittert said. “They don’t work very well outside what they are programmed to do. For example, they can beat a grand master at chess, but if you then ask it to choose to play checkers instead, it can’t necessarily make that decision.”

And because the technology is so new, no one is regulating or stopping it.

“The scariest part is that we have no idea what the implications are going to be, but we do know that when the use of AI has been rushed, that there are dire consequences,” Vittert said.

For example, police relying on AI facial recognition to decide who to arrest, when the algorithm does a terrible job identifying people of color “has resulted in completely innocent individuals being jailed for up to a week,” Vittert said, “or Amazon hiring based on resumes that had the keywords ‘fraternity, male, lacrosse,’ we have already seen serious, unforeseen consequences.” 

How to spot a bot

As with any dating situation—online or in person—it’s important to use caution. Avoid sharing personal information and do not respond to requests for financial help. Most importantly, listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, there’s a good chance it’s not.

“Warning signs that you might be chatting with a bot versus a real person are going to be hard to tell as the AI gets better and better, but if you think it seems a little off, a little weird, not quite getting the tone—that is where you can tell,” Vittert said.

“AI can’t yet understand humor or tone, so if the responses to your humor or tone don’t seem to jive, then it’s possible you are talking to a bot.”

On March 21, President Biden issued an urgent warning to American business leaders to strengthen their companies’ cyber defenses immediately. In recent weeks, experts have been surprised by the lack of full-scale cyberattacks by Russia. But the threat of devastating cyberattacks is still very real and American companies and individuals must remain vigilant, warned Liberty Vittert, professor of practice of data science at Olin Business School.  

“With the war in Ukraine seeming to only ramp up, instead of down, and Putin’s aggression against those that would defend the Ukrainian people increases, it only seems appropriate to ask ‘What is an act of war against the United States?’” Vittert said.

Liberty Vittert, professor of practice in data science at Olin Business School, studies how big data is impacting society. Photo art created by Jennifer Wessler

The United States was launched into World War II after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, killing 2,403 American soldiers and civilians. That was an act of war that the U.S. could not ignore. It’s unlikely that Russia would attack the U.S. in the same way, though.

“Most assume that nowadays it would be an act of cyber warfare, not an actual physical attack. But what does that mean?” Vittert asked.  

“The Russians and the Chinese have been responsible for cyberattacks for years on the United States. From the SolarWinds Russian-linked cyberattack in 2020, and the cyberattack on the Colonial Oil pipeline less than a year ago, we have numerous examples of Russia testing our systems. 

“China has been much worse, with multiple Chinese-linked cyber hacks on Microsoft, on Google and even on our news sources like The New York Times,” she said.

Previous cyberattacks have not been treated as acts of war, which begs the question: What sorts of actions would cross that line?

“If Russia targets the U.S. banking system, is that enough? Do they just need to access the systems, do they need to shut it down, do they need to steal? What is bad enough that we would call it an act of war?” Vittert said.

“If pipelines are targeted, how long do they need to be down before it is an act of war? Someone I spoke with recently said it would be an act of war if Americans died. If the U.S. has access to oil pipelines shut down for any period, I can guarantee you there will be deaths. How many is necessary to consider it an act of war?

“The answers to these questions are complicated and frankly unknown. This is a new tool in the new toolbox of war,” she said.

Already, Russia has attacked Ukraine in multiple ways, including hacking business and financial systems in the country. As for an attack in the U.S., Vittert said it is just a matter of time.  

‘They only need to get in once’

“Most would say that the U.S. has the most sophisticated (cyber) defense systems and—on the other side of it—the most sophisticated attack systems,” Vittert said. “But the problem with cyberattacks is that they only need to get in once to cause devastating damage, whereas we have to defend against so many.” 

Most large corporations and financial systems likely have in-house cyber protection capabilities but, for smaller businesses, Vittert recommended hiring a cybersecurity company to ensure your company is protected. All businesses—large and small—should review their cyber protection systems to ensure they are up to date and as protected as they believe them to be.

“This isn’t something to take lightly whether it be an attack from a foreign adversary or simply a criminal one,” Vittert said.

As for individuals, Vittert said it’s important to change your passwords regularly and never use the same password for your banking systems as you do for other websites.

“It’s much easier to hack a magazine website, for example, but if you use the same passwords, you’re potentially facing some real trouble,” Vittert warned.

Liberty Vittert looks at polls and the pollsters from a data-analytics perspective, given her statistical background. She is professor of practice in data analytics at Olin.

As she wrote Nov. 5 in a New York Daily News op-ed and Nov. 7 for Fox News, using a data lens she publicly foretold of Trump’s victory before it surprised the pollsters and oddsmakers in 2016, and she predicted in October how this 2020 balloting would go.

Liberty Vittert

“The pollsters really did flub up 2016, and, unfortunately, they have not only not learned from their mistakes, but also flubbed up 2020 to an even more epic degree. While they did get it right that Biden would win, the error in their estimate of how much he would win by was off by an even bigger margin than 2016,” Vittert said. “So what happened?

“We have two main issues at play: shy/scared voters and a misunderstanding of approval ratings.

“First, pollsters greatly underestimated — and did this to a much greater extent in 2020 than in 2016 — the number of ‘shy’ voters. These are people who chose not to answer truthfully to the pollsters. I would argue that ‘shy’ is a misnomer, and the better terminology is ‘scared’ voters who are unwilling to risk the hassle, harassment and real-life, very serious downsides to admitting that they might vote for Trump.

“A study out of USC showed that if you ask voters who they think their neighbors or friends are going to vote for, instead of asking who they are going to vote for, then magically Biden’s 10-point lead shrunk by half to a 5-point lead. Now, it is clear this was a problem in 2016 and 2020 — the real question is that with President Trump headed out of office will this be a problem with the polls in 2024?

Approval ratings

“Second, there is one polling device that tends to be a very significant variable in pollster’s determination of which candidate is in the lead: approval ratings. While Trump has the lowest approval rating in history at only 41% — almost 15 percentage points below the average — we are missing two very important aspects of approval ratings.

“Approval ratings don’t compare between people, they simply ask if you approve of the president, meaning that while you may ‘disapprove’ of Trump, you could have potentially disapproved of Biden even more — meaning you would vote for Trump. More importantly, what the pollsters are missing is that it really doesn’t make sense to compare Trump’s approval ratings to past presidents because he already started off so low.

“Let me explain: Trump has the smallest difference in spread — highest and lowest — of approval ratings over time. He never varied by more than 13%; the next-lowest spread was President John F. Kennedy at 27%! This means that Trump has what is arguably the strongest base of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Furthermore, a simple analysis shows that Trump tended toward even higher approval ratings ever since he took office — a clear sign that his base wasn’t going anywhere and was, in fact, growing.

“These two issues were enough to have pollsters off by epic margins. So can we still trust them? If they finally fix their ways, we can trust them again, but they have a long way to go.”