By TECHBOOK | May 23, 2022 at 7:02 p.m
We encounter algorithms almost everywhere on the Internet, for example when shopping online or using search engines, even when posting on social media. But: also offline. TECHBOOK explains where algorithms come from, what role they play in our daily lives – and why the whole thing is also a little spooky…
Have you searched the web for an e-bike – and all of a sudden the numerous websites you visit are teeming with relevant advertising? Then a sales algorithm probably struck. Algorithms can do much more than determine our buying behavior.
What are algorithms?
By definition, algorithms are a series of step-by-step operations aimed at solving a task or problem. We encounter them everywhere in our everyday lives – even offline. For example, in baking, the algorithm is a baking recipe. Above all, we want to explain the technical side here.
In computer science, algorithms are the basis of programming. They automate processes. To put it simply, a specific answer is output as a result of a specific input.
The following properties apply to algorithms:
They are determined (= fixed). This means that the same output must always follow an input. Algorithms are deterministic, so they are subject to limitations. Means: The consequent calculation step is always predetermined. Furthermore, algorithms are finite. This "dynamic finiteness" prevents their execution from taking up infinite memory. Algorithms are terminated. This means that the result achieved is achieved after a predetermined number of inputs/steps. Finally, algorithms are effective. Means: The effect of your instruction is fixed.
With the help of algorithms, it is possible, among other things, to tailor advertising specifically to Internet users. With the help of cookies and based on our click behavior and searched terms, algorithms create a kind of digital personal profile. Based on this, content and purchase offers can be placed in a targeted manner.
Also interesting: That changes with online shopping
Algorithms also make decisions in numerous other areas that specifically affect us. This thought may not appeal to everyone. Other examples where technical algorithms are used are the film suggestions on Netflix, partner suggestions for online dating or spelling programs. Also interesting: As a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation revealed, people with higher educational qualifications tend to see more advantages in automated decision-making.
Personnel, GPS, elevators…
While the examples are probably not new to many, some of the use of algorithms may still come as a surprise. More and more companies are using algorithms, for example in the area of personnel management. Here they scan, among other things, CVs and letters of application according to certain criteria.
The same applies to navigation systems: These make decisions over our heads, so to speak – with the help of algorithms that calculate the shortest route at lightning speed.
This type of artificial intelligence (AI) is also important for elevators, for example. They signal to him according to which system the elevator calls are to be processed. Or to put it another way: without algorithms, the elevator would not “know” whether it should first transport a passenger from the ground floor to the 12th floor without stopping, or let other passengers board or alight in between. Algorithms can also register which call signal was sent the longest, i.e. which floor has to be accessed first.
Controversial topic: predictive policing
The police also use algorithms to supplement their practice. The goal: to be “one step ahead” of criminals. Software such as B. Precobs are designed to detect locations where a crime may soon occur or to identify potential criminals. The officials want to use this method of crime forecasting to thwart illegal activities in advance.
However, this use of AI is controversial. Among other things, critics fear that a) people will be wrongly targeted if they fit the pattern of suspicion due to a possible criminal history. And b) this also threatens "normal", innocent guarantors who have slipped into the pre-programmed pattern in the course of random behavior.