TACT isn’t just a good attribute to have on a first date, it’s 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 selected international correspondents for anyone filling out a questionnaire, accountant Lewis Altfest wondered if the same idea could be applied to find a date in a region. He teamed up with a computer programmer friend at IBM, Robert Ross, and together they invented TACT.
They weren’t the first to merge computers and matchmaking. A trio of Harvard students came up with a similar program called Operation Match and services had existed in Europe for years, but Altfest and Ross’ company was one of the best known.
They garnered lots of free publicity and even launched New York park parties to attract attendees. With a comprehensive questionnaire and five dollars, each person received contact information for 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 “complementary needs for each other.”
Men were asked what hairstyles they liked in women and women were asked what activities, like chopping wood at a campsite or painting in an art studio, they found most attractive in a man. Participants were also asked to choose four things they disliked from a list including “free love”, “pseudo-intellectuals” and “rock ‘n’ roll”. The questionnaires were transformed into punch cards, introduced into the machines which then calculated the matches.
However, the room-sized IBM computers that powered the entire company were far from perfect. A brother and sister were paired once. Ross told the BBC that a couple who had recently broken off their engagement found themselves bonded again by TACT. They decided it was fate and got married.
Even though computer dating had many flaws, TV shows couldn’t help but follow the trend. In fact, the confusion created by machine matchmakers was ripe for parody in sitcoms, sci-fi shows, and even police procedurals. All of My three sons at The twilight zone at Adam-12 had episodes revolving around computers and love.
Jethro of The Beverly Hillbillies tried computer dating, as did Gomer Pyle. The new courtship even made it to Hooterville in Green Acres. The trend continued into the 70s in shows like The odd couple, company of three and The ship of love.
TACT died out after a few years and other companies came and went over the decades. The internet has added a whole new dimension to computer dating, bringing potential matches to your desk and now the phone in your pocket.
Even though advances in technology have simplified the process, the success rate doesn’t seem to be improving much.
Did you ever try a computerized matching service back then?
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