Blog // Computers Think

Computers need to think as well

The name WATSON is enough to make many chess enthusiasts uncomfortable, as Watson was the IBM computer that beat the then world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1998. For many people it was clear then that computers would rule the world one day.

But the game is not over yet. This is explained in the "Wirtschaftsjahrbuch 2015; THE SECOND MACHINE AGE"1. Average chess players now regularly beat Watson, although it has become far more powerful in the meantime. How do they do that? Naturally not on their own. They use an average PC with chess programs. The man-machine combination is still better than Watson - even if Watson is the most powerful computer in the world.

Marco Wehr, physicist and philosopher, asked in the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung, FAZ, whether the trend towards computers taking over our lives could still be stopped at all. After all, the logarithms are becoming ever more sophisticated. In essence, everything revolves around the two concepts of RELEVANCE and NUMBER CRUNCHING. What does number crunching mean? Powerful computers today can perform calculations that could never be accomplished manually in terms of quantity and quality. In this way mankind gains certain scientific results that would not be possible without computers. It is assumed that the availability of vast mass storage devices adds another dimension to the epistemological problem: the amounts of data to be analysed are so huge that computers increasingly take the place of scientists, with consequences that nobody can foresee.2 That is the strength of computers, their ability to calculate using vast quantities of numbers. 

The difficulty comes with relevance. A computer can calculate everything but has difficulty in judging what is really important. Frank Schirrmacher warned as early as 2010 against the systematic self-disempowerment of modern societies by means of mathematical models. His example was the simulation by a British computer of the ash eruption from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. The analysis of a small amount of data resulted in a large proportion of air traffic being shut down. Nobody wanted to make a mistake and distrust the computer; if an aircraft had crashed, it would have been manslaughter of the passengers. Ultimately, the computer had judged irrelevant data as relevant, and nobody was in a position any more to verify them.

Social scientists are familiar with this challenge: "Measure everything and you measure the garbage as well"! Joint thinking is supposed to be around for a long time to come, and it's a good thing. Incidentally, the GO game was almost a draw. The GO player could really have done with a PC!  

1 Brynjolfsson, Erik; McAfee, Andrew (2014): The Second Machine Age. Wie die nächste digitale Revolution unser aller Leben verändern wird. (How the next digital revolution will change all our lives) Plassen, Kulmbach

2 Marco Wehr, Das wusste unser Lehrer aber besser. (Our teachers knew better). FAZ 9.4.2016, p. 12

Geschwill, Roland & Nieswandt, Martina, Laterales Management, Das Erfolgsprinzip für Unternehmen im digitalen Zeitalter (The principle of success for entrepreneurs in the digital age), Springer 2016