A former Wall Street quant sounds an alarm on the mathematical models that pervade modern life - and threaten to rip apart our social fabric
We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly the decisions that affect our lives - where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance - are being made not by humans but by mathematical models. In theory this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated.
But as Cathy O'Neil reveals in this urgent and necessary book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable even when they're wrong. Most troublingly, they reinforce discrimination: If a poor student can't get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his zip code), he's then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a "toxic cocktail for democracy". Welcome to the dark side of big data.
Tracing the arc of a person's life, O'Neil exposes the black-box models that shape our future, both as individuals and as a society. These "weapons of math destruction" score teachers and students, sort résumés, grant (or deny) loans, evaluate workers, target voters, set paroles, and monitor our health.
O'Neil calls on modelers to take more responsibility for their algorithms and on policy makers to regulate their use. But in the end, it's up to us to become savvier about the models that govern our lives. This important book empowers us to ask the tough questions, uncover the truth, and demand change.
©2016 Cathy O'Neil (P)2016 Random House Audio
"Weapons of Math Destruction opens the curtain on algorithms that exploit people and distort the truth while posing as neutral mathematical tools. This book is wise, fierce, and desperately necessary." (Jordan Ellenberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of How Not to Be Wrong )
"Weapons of Math Destruction shines invaluable light on the invisible algorithms and complex mathematical models used by government and big business." (Astra Taylor, author of The People's Platform)
I like Cathy's writing and analysis. I wish they had gotten a professional reader though, it would have made it more enjoyable. It's not as if Cathy is awful or anything, she is just not professional.
O'Neil makes a strong case for the increasing importance of ethics in data science. The evidence for discrimination, whether intentional or not, is compelling. This book is a must for data professionals and anyone concerned with growing inequality in the economy.
This book is totally worth the listen for the intro and first chapter alone. It's very well-written and easy to follow, and manages to tell clear stories about how the software we use to assess teacher performance or insurance risk is all to often encoded with the prejudices and blind spots of the people who make it. It shows how that is already damaging equality and democracy, and warns of areas where it may get worse.
As a software designer, the one thing I would have loved from this book would be a little more depth about how software products might avoid these pitfalls. However, I'm probably coming at this book with unfair expectations, and it's likely a subject I just need to research more deeply.
Overall, if you enjoy podcasts like Freakonomics and Planet Money, you'll probably love this. Happy I listened!
I LOVED the ENTIRE premise surrounding this book. It was an AMAZING book. Offering a WEALTH of knowledge in a well organized format. As complex as the main topic of the book is, the author gave great simplifying examples, in areas that may be foreign to a non-mathematician. This book makes me want to become a data scientist to better help in the areas of inequity within government practices. I WILL recommend to EVERYONE! EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT READ!
The story is presented in a series of topics disclosures that compare by theme, data models can be made and used in ways that can damage society and make bad situations worse. Cathy O'Neil reveals how data models can be relied on with good intentions in mind, and by ignorance, dismissal or narrow-sightedness, can misrepresent, injure and derail people and societal function-ability.
This is a clear, concise presentation of how algorithms effect everyday people with both good and very negative results. Highly recommend, a real eye opener. 'Big Data' effects almost every part of our lives, Cathy O'Neil explains the ramifications of companies making decision past on these results.
This book breaks down the relationship between data, algorithms, politics, and social relations in a really helpful way. But the narration felt stilted -- at times, the narrator would maddeningly slow down the pace of the reading to a grind, as if reading instructions from a label, while at other times the narrator would unexpectedly quicken the pace and rush through certain sections in the book. Along with speed issues, the quality of the recording itself was problematic -- including occasional echo effects, sound fading, and seemingly random pauses. It's such a shame because the book is awesome. But I really wish it had been professionally recorded and hope someone considers recording a higher-quality audio version of the book.
This book opened my eyes to the inequities in many of the algorithms that are used to rate/sort people for jobs, schools, credit, etc. I was not aware of the down side of these sorting systems and how they perpetuate the cycle of poverty. The author did a good job of explaining and alerting this to the general reader. One doesn't have to be a mathematician to understand this.
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