Being Human with Algorithms

(C) 2018 Pahl/ ACM

Being Human with Algorithms – Mensch-Sein mit Algorithmen

The digital transformation promises new business models, increasing profits, and numerous simplifications in our everyday lives. Besides the many opportunities there are also challenges that must be taken seriously. Those challenges are typically non-technical, concerning social implications of living with algorithms. Fears that were described in science fiction long time ago such as autonomous algorithms that take control over humans in different aspects come close from a technical point of view. Partly they are already reality today, requiring a responsible use of the available technology.

Being Human, Algorithms, and Responsibility

Not long time ago, big data with collecting and processing huge amounts of data in short time was technically unimaginable. Today, searching big data stores in almost real time, and at a high semantic level is reality. Examples are the image analysis algorithms used by Facebook to tag friends, and to semantically analyze content of just uploaded pictures. Artificial Intelligence also made a big leap recently with machine learning and deep learning enabling applications such as automated and autonomous driving or autonomous robots that will both be part of our daily reality soon.

The increasingly fast evolution of algorithms raises questions that we consider worth discussing: Who takes responsibility for unplanned side effects? Can we meet our responsibility by implementing safeguards against the misuse of algorithms? Computer scientists can no longer focus on a purely technical view of the world only. Societal implications have to be taken into account early in their work. What does being human mean in a world that is more and more dominated by physically interacting, self-learning algorithms? What role should humans play in the future world? Is everything that is feasible also desirable? Is it justifiable? Do we have to re-define society for our lives with algorithms?

Computer science cannot give answers to those and many more questions that clearly go beyond the classical expertise of the field. It becomes more and more important to identify, discuss, and solve arising problems in an interdisciplinary way. Especially the expertise of the more traditional sciences and fields is needed to understand the developments, and to lead them into the right directions that make this world a better planet for society at large.

50 Years ACM in Germany

With the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the German Chapter of the ACM we want to shed new light to the question of human existence in the age of algorithms. We want to do both, celebrate the shaping power of computer science, and channeling and make the European voice heard even more in the ongoing global discourse on responsibility in the progressing digital transformation.

As a highlight we will have the a three day celebration in Heidelberg at September 20, 21, and 22.

Marc-Oliver Pahl founded "Being Human with Algorithms / Mensch Sein mit Algorithmen" in 2018 within the German Chapter of the ACM together with Gerhard Schimpf, Ruth Stubenvoll, Ernst-Oliver Wilhelm, and Eberhard Schmolz. He is also the originator of the motto and the logo. Marc-Oliver is Research Director at the Institut Mines Telecom (IMT) Atlantique in Rennes, France. He also heads the IoT Smart Space Orchestration team at Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany. His research is on enabling an open, secure, and fully connected Internet of Things, where everybody can contribute software programs that literally change the world. Fostering a dialog between technology leaders and the rest of the society is a central goal of Marc-Oliver. Besides this website, a major contribution in this direction is his interview series with relevant people about aspects of the Digital Transformation. Marc-Oliver holds several teaching prices including the Ernst Otto Fischer prize for excellence in teaching. He is responsible for the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) "iLabX - The Internet Masterclass" ( on edX. It teaches the technical aspects of the backbone of the Digital Transformation: the Internet. Marc-Oliver is a long time member of is a professional member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the German Society for Informatics (GI), the Deutscher Hochschullehrerverband (DHV), the German Chapter of the ACM, and Faculty Sponsor of the ACM Student Chapter in Munich. He is vice president of the German Chapter of the ACM (2020-2023). In his spare time he is also a photographer, designer, musician, and enthusiastic sportsman.

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