Gerd Gigerenzer’s book “Click”

Dhe digital technological upheaval in which we find ourselves naturally produces extremes. This includes expectations of salvation on the one hand and quite demanding apocalyptic on the other hand, which does not necessarily evoke the imminent end of the world, but at least the end of humanity as we know it. It is well advised not to adopt either of these, but instead to read Gerd Gigerenzer, for example.

The psychologist has presented a book entitled “Click” that is didactically well done, pleasantly factual and covers a wide range from artificial intelligence (AI), how it currently works and how it is found in well-known offers, to how we deal with probabilities and Uncertainty to social scenarios and personal recommendations.

How to develop a model of the world

Gigerenzer gives the reader access to a broad spectrum of what is currently known as AI using striking examples such as dating platforms or automated driving. He illustrates which errors the corresponding algorithms can make – and which misinterpretations people are susceptible to. This is not only instructive, but also suggests that an intuitive understanding of modern information technology is hardly sufficient for those who want to behave digitally confidently in the future.

Gerd Gigerenzer:

Gerd Gigerenzer: “Click”. How we stay in control and make the right decisions in a digital world.

Image: C. Bertelsmann Verlag

Gigerenzer then leads on to the question of whether it is possible to teach a computer what we call “common sense”: Even small children develop a model of the world by constantly observing and experiencing their environment, they subconsciously internalize the existence of natural laws, understand them what space and time are, what norms apply in the groups they are in, and they can think causally, i.e. perceive what is cause and what is effect.

More computing power and data volume?

This general understanding of things is essential, AI pioneers like Turing Award winner Yann LeCun hope that we can learn new things quite quickly, only need a double-digit number of driving hours to get a driver’s license and don’t have to look at tens of thousands of pictures of lions , in order to be able to recognize this animal species in previously unknown recordings and from other perspectives.

This idea is not only inspiring the leading IT companies to construct much larger artificial neural networks and train them with even more data. However, experts are also certain that the solution does not just consist of more computing power and data volume. Gigerenzer illustrates this, among other things, by showing everything that is necessary to really understand language.

A dedicated warning

On the other hand, his statements on the conditions under which AI systems are superior to humans and vice versa are less convincing. It seems proven that computers can achieve superhuman performance in common games, i.e. clearly defined rule areas such as Go or chess. It is quite debatable, however, that human advantage, as Gigerenzer distinguishes it, automatically lies in dealing with uncertainty, with breaking the rules, which, as he notes with reference to the economist Frank Knight, comes down to something like judgement, intuition and ” the courage to make decisions”.

Don’t the ability to make judgments and intuition also arise from past experiences, i.e. ultimately from data combinations? “When future and past are not the same, collecting and analyzing big data – which always comes from the past – can lead to wrong conclusions,” he continues. Probably true. But does not all applicable human knowledge at any given point in time come from the past, experienced personally or by other people and recorded and passed on in some form?

Gigerenzer’s book is much more than an introduction to statistics, AI and human technological behavior. He adds a staunch warning about the dominance of the internet and its consequences. He complains about the business models of social networks and search engine providers that are based on targeted advertising and how these interact with modern mobile phones in everyday life between parents and children or between road users. Based on the work of the economist Shoshana Zuboff, he also speaks of surveillance capitalism and sees it as a development of society as a whole that endangers individual freedom and health. He also describes the technical control that countries like China and India are striving for. He sees this approach as an existential challenge for western democracies in a global systemic competition.

Gigerenzer’s pessimistic view of the possible consequences of digital networking should be countered, for example, with access to knowledge and fellow human beings. Regardless of one’s point of view, the book is a well-rounded book that will enrich debate about a world that continues to grow in importance.

Gerd Gigerenzer: “Click”. How we stay in control and make the right decisions in a digital world. Translated from the English by Haine Kober. C. Bertelsmann Verlag, Munich 2021. 416 p., ill., hardcover, €24.