In his book "Titelverteidiger" (How-to-Guide for a successful digital transformation of the German industries) Frank Riemensperger, head of Accenture in the DACH region, deplores the lack of digital competence among German citizens: "90 percent of people living in Germany, for example, have no idea what's an algorithm and what it is used for in everyday life (...)". Since the algorithm is a central element of machine learning, this term should therefore be briefly explained.

Silicon Valley's favorite author, Yuval David Harari, provides a short description in his bestseller HOMO DEUS: "An algorithm is a methodical set of steps that can be used to make calculations, resolve problems and reach decisions. An algorithm isn't a particular calculation, but the method followed when making the calculation." In the field of mathematics, an algorithm would thus be a method to solve an optimization problem. But also a recipe is an algorithm in this sense: It is a guide in several steps to reach a (satisfying) result.

The definition, which is found in Harari's book, could have been taken from numerous other books or sources. For Harari, however, this definition is only the starting point for a consideration that is much more far-reaching. He points out that a biologistic world view today perceives animals and humans primarily as (successful) algorithms. Humans basically consist of algorithms that make their decisions in thousands of situations of everyday life. According to this veiw, if a man finds a woman attractive, then this can be attributed to the fact that perceived characteristics (height, health indicators, female attributes, etc.) are processed by biochemical algorithms which, for example, determine or estimate reproduction probabilities and then trigger a certain behaviour. Of course, these calculations are not made with pen and paper, rather they are translated directly into feelings; nevertheless, they remain algorithms: "Even Nobel laureates in economics make only a tiny fraction of their decisions using pen, paper and calculator; 99 per cent of our decisions - including the most important life choices concerning spouses, careers and habitats - are made by highly refined algorithms we call sensations, emotions and desires".

This is followed by a series of startling, even disturbing thoughts in Harari's book. For example, the hypothesis that the millennia-old (biochemical) algorithms for partner selection might not lead to an optimal partner selection in the 21st century, because the conditions for a successful partnership today are completely different from those 20,000 years ago. Harari further formulates the hypothesis that data-driven companies can now develop evidence-based partner selection algorithms that are better suited for the 21st century and simply control partner selection in the future. Not only the mate choice. You'll find it's worth reading the book...


The author is a manager in the software industry with international expertise: Authorized officer at one of the large consulting firms - Responsible for setting up an IT development center at the Bangalore offshore location - Director M&A at a software company in Berlin.