Computer algorithms are trading stocks, targeting ads, steering political campaigns, arranging dates, besting people on “Jeopardy” and even choosing bra sizes.

But increasingly, there is a decidedly retro helper behind the curtain â€" a human being, Steve Lohr writes in The New York Times.

Although algorithms are becoming faster, more precise and ever more powerful, the computers themselves are literal-minded, and context and nuance often elude them. They are not always up to deciphering the ambiguity of human language and the mystery of human reasoning. Yet these days they are being asked to be more humanlike in what they figure out.

“For all their brilliance, computers can be thick as a brick,” said Tom M. Mitchell, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University.

And so, while programming experts still write the step-by-tep instructions of computer code, additional people are needed to make more subtle contributions as the work the computers do has become more involved. People evaluate, edit or correct an algorithm’s work. Or they assemble online databases of knowledge and check and verify them â€" creating, essentially, a crib sheet the computer can call on for a quick answer. Humans can interpret and tweak information in ways that are understandable to both computers and other humans.