Banu Guler is a Scorpio—more specifically, she is a Scorpio sun, Cancer rising, and Leo moon—but her vision of astrology isn’t confined to celestial charts and mysticism. If she were to tweet out her definition of this ancient pursuit, it would read: “Astrology is a 2,500-year-old tool that gives people a language to talk about their lives.”
Co-Star, the artificial intelligence–driven app that generates your astrological chart based on the exact time, date, and place of your birth, provides its users daily horoscopes and lets them compare their charts to those of their friends (whether they’re on the app or not). Its sleek design is easy to use, and its forecasts have been accurate—and entertaining—enough to get the app a cult following. Though the company is just two years old, it has already garnered 5.3 million users around the world and secured more than $6 million in investment.
Guler, a 31-year-old Texan turned New Yorker, first came up with the idea for the app after she gifted a pregnant friend an astrological chart for her baby that became a surprise hit among her friends. She then partnered with two of her coworkers at the fashion label and content hub VFiles, Anna Kopp and Ben Weitzman, to launch the app in October 2017.
Guler and her partners sought to capitalize on astrology’s growing popularity among millennials. A recent poll done by the Pew Research Center shows that Americans are becoming disillusioned with structured religion and are identifying more and more as “spiritual.” This cultural change represents a major business opportunity for the astrology industry, which according to the The New York Times, is valued at more than $2 billion in the U.S. alone. Besides the daily horoscopes that appear on many websites, a range of new beauty products and other goods cater to the personalized needs of a proud benevolent Leo or intentionally indecisive Libra. Whether you believe in it or not, astrology seems more visible than ever.
I’ll admit I was intrigued by the new fad for horoscopes. I’m an Aquarian—and every bit as independent and noncommittal as my sign suggests. Daily prayer or weekly services are not my idea of spiritual guidance. Earlier this year, I signed up for Co-Star, curious to see what a few of my friends were raving about. It became clear that the app talked to and connected users in a way that felt more real. No vague predictions. No bold claims that the person you were dating was your soulmate. Just a daily synopsis that often seems to align with whatever you’re going through in that specific moment. One day, after a painful breakup earlier this summer, I was consoled by the message: “Your attention is a gift.” Another post-breakup message read: “You are not responsible for anyone else’s behavior or shortcomings.” When I was denied a job I naively thought I had secured, I received this humbling message: “Silence your ego.” Whether it was real or not, I had something that could give meaning to the chaos around me.
Such messages can stand in for a friend who gives you the unfiltered advice you sometimes need to hear. Guler assures me her company doesn’t have the technology to listen to phone calls or track what’s going on in people's phones—“We don’t even know how to do that,” she says—and gives all the credit to her team for the raw conversational tone that the app’s users have come to value.
“I’ve always felt like I’m a pretty intuitive person, so [the app] almost provides validation for the way I’m feeling,” says Alexa Rossi, a 28-year-old New York City–based publicist. “Astrology for me is a way of better understanding myself.” Rossi believes that Co-Star is more accurate than other astrology sites and likes to check her compatibility with friends or people she’s dated. “Reading my full chart helps me realize I have certain tendencies and helps me be more aware of the choices I make, things I should focus on in life, and overall purpose,” she says.
The app’s proprietary AI technology takes data from the publicly accessible Jet Propulsion Laboratory to map out the position of the planets. The team, which consists of 10 people, has writers who translate the astrological data into thoughtful daily horoscopes and push notifications.
Traditional astrologists also seem to be fans of the app. “We love Co-Star,” says Ophira Edut, one half of the AstroTwins. “[It’s] a fascinating new addition to the astrology landscape. It arrived when astrology was having a ‘tipping point moment’ in the culture and coincided with the continued rise of technology being part of our everyday lives—it just makes sense.”
Though Edut, who writes horoscopes with twin sister Tali for their site Astrostyle along with several other websites, says nothing can beat going to see a real astrologer for a one-on-one session, she appreciates apps like Co-Star for making astrology more accessible to the masses. “We applaud all projects that further astrology in a way that creates meaning and self-acceptance for people,” she says.
Whether astrology is real or not is, of course, up for debate—but Guler believes it’s the wrong question to ask. The appeal of this science (or pseudoscience) is that it gets people talking. Guler mentioned one astrology book popular among her friends that made “outrageous claims.” Suddenly, she found herself debating the merits of the predictions with her friends, which invariably led them to talk about themselves in a new and more penetrating way. “I think that, to me, is the magic [of astrology],” she says. “Not, Can we predict if we’re going to fall in love forever? Who gives a shit? We’re all going to die. [It’s about,] Can we connect in a deeper way than we could without it?”
It’s a passionate and thought-provoking response—perhaps one that only a Scorpio could deliver.
Originally Appeared on Vogue