CIM 2018/4 Focus

The power of algorithmus

// Katrin Schmitt

Algorithms influence opinions, (management) decisions, life and work. They affect the path people take and – who they meet.

Photo: Microsoft

Photo: European Commission

Groundbreaking. This year Microsoft Germany has enhanced its event app with an improved matching function controlled by financial algorithms. The team behind it wants to offer conference delegates at #Impulse18 and #DPK18 at Leipziger Messe in October “a new level of networking quality,” says Experiential Marketing Lead Margit Zöller. “We want to make a visit even more worthwhile” (see interview on page 24).

Munich-based company XING Events recently launched FastLane, which offers admission control through facial recognition in compliance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 400 people an hour can be registered on site using biometric facial recognition and the now active live interface between the databases of the two companies. These are just two of the applications of algorithms, which nevertheless have a big impact on planners, providers and visitors.

Algorithms are essentially sequences of instructions for solving problems of various levels of complexity. The maths behind them makes them important tools for developers. They enable complex decision-making processes to be automated, forecasts to be made or applicants to be selected. They are also the building blocks of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Data mining (essentially large-scale data analysis) requires access to large volumes of data (big data).

It is already being deployed by companies like Google and Facebook, polarising opinions. The pros and cons for business and society as a whole are being debated by a range of institutions, organisations and companies as well as at many events. The debate has a very considerable ethical dimensions. Fear of the power of AI and concerns about privacy and influence abound – and not just since the GDPR came into force. While some talk anxiously of the filter bubble, technological singularity or manipulation, others focus on personalisation, efficiency or safety.

Bitkom, the German industry association for the digital economy, has addressed the issue by publishing recommendations for the responsible use of AI and automated decision-making. At conferences such as re:publica in Berlin, Techfestival in Copenhagen or Strata Data in New York, there is an intense debate about how to take responsibility for the world we are creating and how there can be a more useful relationship between algorithms and humans. Techfestival’s Copenhagen Letter is essentially a manifesto on the issue addressed to “everyone who shapes technology today”.

The EU is working at full tilt on the digital internal market. Concrete steps towards this are the free flow of data or the simplification of VAT arrangements. Investment of nearly nine billion euros is planned in the Digital Europe programme in order to promote cyber security, high-performance computing, AI, digital expertise and the use of digital technology. Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, issued the following appeal at the Bruegel Annual Meeting in Brussels this year: “Our focus should not be on technology but on people; either we will build human-centred digital ecosystems based on people and values – or we are simply going to fall.”

This is something not just for developers but also for those responsible for regulation. “We have seen that the traditional reactive approach to regulation is too slow to respond to the pace of change that marks our economies today in areas as diverse as ride-sharing, crowdfunding, problematic algorithms, and data privacy,” writes Mike Turley, Global Public-Sector Leader and Partner at Deloitte, in an article entitled “The Connected Regulator” on LinkedIN. Turley believes that engaged, connected individuals should alert regulators to issues as they unfold so that they can prepare regulation in advance.

For that to happen, most Europeans would first need a proper understanding of “the sharing economy”, “crowdfunding”, “data protection” and “problematic algorithms”. The latter, in particular, are a mystery to many Germans. That was revealed in a representative study of what Germans know and think about algorithms conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation in 2018. The study is part of a project concerned with the impact on society of algorithmbased decision-making systems.
It was found that only 10 per cent of people have a good idea of how algorithms work, while 45 per cent have no idea at all. 46 per cent are undecided on the opportunities and risks, while a large majority (79 per cent) prefer human decision-makers to automated decision-making. On the other hand, an algorithm-based risk assessment strategy could perhaps have prevented the Love Parade disaster, in which 21 people died in 2010. The unsuitable location could have been rejected in advance, and video footage and sensor data could have been analysed in real time.

The potential of AI for the meeting industry is so essential and so wide-ranging that any concerns will have to be allayed and new capabilities developed. In mid-September the World Economic Forum published a study entitled The Future of Jobs. According to that, humans account for 71 per cent of working hours today, but that will be roughly halved (reduced by 48 per cent) by 2025. Most work will be done by machines and algorithms. It is time to develop relevant expertise; the future is now.

That is the only way in which all involved will be able to make sound assessments of the various necessary or possible uses of AI. These include real-time crowd management for safety, the installation of an event concierge and language assistant, the communication of automated, personalised (promotional) content, the identification and addressing of staff and event guests or the use of self-driving shuttle buses. Focused further training on topics such as algorithms and their use in the meetings industry is provided by workshops like “The Rise of the Machines” in Knowledge Theatre 1 at IBTM World (on the Wednesday) or the Digital Event Strategist (DES) certification offered by the PCMA Digital Experience Institute. The two Microsoft conferences, both focusing on “new intelligence”, are also worth considering. “That’s exactly why we still organise events: We believe that technology gives us the space we need for the many important things in life,” emphasises Zöller. “But we also believe there is no tool as good as a one-to-one conversation over a copy of coffee.” Planned using the best possible match, held at the ideal time in the perfect place, focused on the most relevant, useful issue – and with a really good coffee, made by hand.