How AI and Algorithms are Changing our Lives

INTRODUCTION

Behavioral scientist Gerd Gigerenzer looks at how AI and algorithms are shaping our future–and why it is important to remember they aren’t human. He thinks too many of us are now letting AI make the decisions for us. The alternative is start thinking, he says.

WRITTEN BY

SHARE THE WORD

PUBLISHED ON

In an age of ChatGPT, computer algorithms and artificial intelligence are increasingly embedded in our lives, choosing the content we’re shown online, suggesting the music we hear, and answering our questions.

These algorithms may be changing our world and behavior in ways we don’t fully understand, says psychologist and behavioral scientist Gerd Gigerenzer, the director of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy at the University of Potsdam in Germany. Previously the director of the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, he has conducted research over decades that has helped shape understanding of how people make choices when faced with uncertainty.

In his latest book, How to Stay Smart in a Smart World, Dr. Gigerenzer looks at how algorithms are shaping our future–and why it is important to remember they are not human. He spoke with the Journal for The Future of Everything  podcast.

 

The term algorithm is thrown around so much these days. What are we talking about when we talk about algorithms?

It is a huge thing, and therefore it is important to distinguish what we are talking about. One of the insights in my research at the Max Planck Institute is that if you have a situation that is stable and well defined, then complex algorithms such as deep neural networks are certainly better than human performance. Examples are [the games] chess and Go, which are stable.

But if you have a problem that is not stable–for instance, you want to predict a virus, like a coronavirus–then keep your hands off complex algorithms. [Dealing with] uncertainty–that is more how the human mind works, to identify the one or two important cues and ignore the rest. In that type of ill-defined problem, complex algorithms don’t work well. I call this the “stable world principle,” and it helps you as a first clue about what AI can do. It also tells you that, in order to get the most out of AI, we have to make the world more predictable.

 

So after all these decades of computer science, are algorithms really just still calculators at the end of the day, running more and more complex equations?

What else would they be? A deep neural network has many, many layers, but they are still calculating machines. They can do much more than ever before with the help of video technology. They can paint; they can construct text. But that doesn’t mean that they understand text in the sense humans do.

 

Does being able to understand how these algorithms are making decisions help people?

Transparency is immensely important, and I believe it should be a human right. If it is transparent, you can actually modify that and start thinking [for] yourself again rather than relying on an algorithm that isn’t better than a bunch of badly paid workers. So we need to understand the situation where human judgment is needed and is actually better. And also we need to pay attention that we aren’t running into a situation where tech companies sell black-box algorithms that determine parts of our lives. It is about everything including your social and your political behavior, and then people lose control to governments and to tech companies.

 

You write that “digital technology can easily tilt the scales toward autocratic systems.” Why do you say that? And how is this different from past information technologies?

This kind of danger is a real one. Among all the benefits it has, one of the vices is the propensity for surveillance by governments and tech companies. But people don’t read privacy policies anymore, so they don’t know. And also the privacy policies are set up in a way that you can’t really read them. They are too long and complicated. We need to get control back.

 

So then how should we be smart about something like this?

Think about a coffee house in your hometown that serves free coffee. Everyone goes there because it is free, and all the other coffee houses get bankrupt. So you have no choice anymore, but at least you get your free coffee and enjoy your conversations with your friends. But on the tables are microphones and on the walls are video cameras that record everything you say, every word, and to whom, and send it off to analyze. The coffee house is full of salespeople who interrupt you all the time to offer you personalized products. That is roughly the situation you are in when you are on Facebook, Instagram or other platforms. [Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, declined to comment.] In this coffee house, you aren’t the customer. You are the product. So we want to have a coffee house where we are allowed again to pay [for] ourselves, so that we are the customers.

 

We’ve seen this whole infrastructure around personalized ads be baked into the infrastructure of the internet. And it seems like it would take some pretty serious interventions to make that go away. If you’re being realistic, where do you think we’re going to be headed in the next decade or so with technology and artificial intelligence and surveillance?

In general, I have more hope that people realize that it isn’t a good idea to give your data and your responsibility for your own decisions to tech companies who use it to make money from advertisers. That can’t be our future. We pay everywhere else with our [own] money, and that is why we are the customers and have the control. There is a true danger that more and more people are sleepwalking into surveillance and just accept everything that is more convenient.

 

But it sounds so hard, when everything is so convenient, to read privacy policies and do research on these algorithms that are affecting my life. How do I push back against that?

The most convenient thing isn’t to think. And the alternative is start thinking. The most important [technology to be aware of] is a mechanism that psychologists call “intermittent reinforcement.” You get a reinforcement, such as a “Like,” but you never know when you will get it. People keep going back to the platform and checking on their Likes. That has really changed the mentality and made people dependent. I think it is very important for everyone to understand these mechanisms and how one gets dependent so you can get the control back if you want.   Published in Wall Street Journal

Share Your Thoughts

All comments are moderated

From The Same Issue

The articles and content about this issue

From The Same Issue

The articles and content about this issue

From This Topic

The articles and content about this topic

From This Topic

The articles and content about this topic

WM Special

A mystic in action

Explore Other Topics

Browse other coverage

Explore Other Topics

Browse other coverage

WM SPECIAL

Presents, discusses and draws readers to reflect on issues of outmost relevance to the world today.


FRONTIERS

Very often, mission is carried out in frontier situations around the world. Those who embrace these situations have much to share.


UNITY IN DIVERSITY

Writer Ilsa Reyes will be exploring the richness of Pope Francis’s latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti with a view of helping our readers to get a grasp of the this beautiful papal document.


FRONTLINE

Puts to the front committed and inspiring people around the world who embrace humanitarian and religious causes with altruism and passion.


IN FOCUS

Focus on a given theme of interest touching upon social, economic and religious issues.


FAITH@50

As the Philippines prepares to celebrate 500 years of the arrival of Christianity. Fr. James Kroeger leads us in this series into a discovery journey of the landmark events in the history of faith in the Philippine archipelago.


INSIGHT

Aims to nurture and inspire our hearts and minds while pondering upon timely themes.


FILIPINO FOCUS

The large archipelago of the Philippines, in its richness of peoples and cultures, offers varied and challenging situations for mission.


FOLLOW ME

Reflections and vocation stories that shape up the lives of young people.


MISSION IS FUN

As humor and goodness of heart are qualities of Christian and missionary life, the new column “Mission is fun” will be publishing some anecdotes and stories that have happened in a missionary context to lighten up the spirits and trigger a smile in our faces.


LIVING COMMUNION

To help readers of World Mission live this year dedicated to Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples, Tita Puangco, writer and lecturer, shares in this section insights on the spirituality of communion.


WINDS OF THE SPIRIT

A historic view of the Catholic movements that emerged from the grassroots as an inspiration by the Holy Spirit.


BRIDGE BUILDERS

On the Year of Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples, radio host and communicator Ilsa Reyes, in her monthly column, encourages Christians and people of good will to be one with their fellow people of other sects, religions and tribes.


INTERVIEW

Questions to a personality of the Church or secular world on matters of interest that touch upon the lives of people.


WORLD TOUCH

News from the Church, the missionary world and environment that inform and form the consciences.


CARE OF THE EARTH

A feature on environmental issues that are affecting the whole world with the view of raising awareness and prompting action.


EDITORIAL

The editor gives his personal take on a given topic related to the life of the Church, the society or the world.


YOUNG HEART

A monthly column on themes touching the lives of young people in the Year of the Youth in the Philippines by radio host and communicator I lsa Reyes.


SCROLL

A missionary living in the Chinese world shares his life-experiences made up of challenges and joyous encounters with common people.


EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE

Life stories of people who deserve to be known for who they were, what they did and what they stood for in their journey on earth.


ONE BY ONE

Stories of people whom a missionary met in his life and who were touched by Jesus in mysterious ways.


INCREASE OUR FAITH

Critical reflection from a Christian perspective on current issues.


SPECIAL MOMENTS

Comboni missionary Fr. Lorenzo Carraro makes a journey through history pinpointing landmark events that changed the course of humanity.


PROFILE

A biographical sketch of a public person, known for his/her influence in the society and in the Church, showing an exemplary commitment to the service of others.


WM REPORTS

Gives fresh, truthful, and comprehensive information on issues that are of concern to all.


LIFE'S ESSENTIALS

A column aimed at helping the readers live their Christian mission by focusing on what is essential in life and what it entails.


ASIAN FOCUS

Peoples, events, religion, culture and the society of Asia in focus.


THE SEARCHER'S PATH

The human heart always searches for greatness in God’s eyes, treading the path to the fullness of life - no matter what it takes.


INDIAN FOCUS

The subcontinent of India with its richness and variety of cultures and religions is given center stage.


AFRICAN FOCUS

The African continent in focus where Christianity is growing the fastest in the world.


JOURNEY MOMENTS

Well-known writer and public speaker, Fr. Jerry Orbos, accompanies our journey of life and faith with moments of wit and inspiration based on the biblical and human wisdom.


IGNATIUS STEPS

On the year dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyala, Fr. Lorenzo Carraro walks us through the main themes of the Ignatian spirituality.


THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS

Fr. John Taneburgo helps us to meditate every month on each of the Seven Last Words that Jesus uttered from the cross.


INSIDE THE HOLY BOOK

In this section, Fr. Lorenzo delves into the secrets and depths of the Sacred Scriptures opening for us the treasures of the Sacred Book so that the reader may delight in the knowledge of the Word of God.


CONVERSATIONS

Reflections about the synodal journey on a conversational and informal style to trigger reflection and sharing about the synodal path the Church has embarked upon.

Shopping Cart