Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

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Longlisted for the National Book Award | New York Times Bestseller

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 troubling, 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 parole, 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 more savvy about the models that govern our lives. This important book empowers us to ask the tough questions, uncover the truth, and demand change.
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - PDCRead - LibraryThing

One of the funniest bits of Little Britain was where David Walliams as Carol Beer would type a request into the computer, before turning to the customer and saying ‘Computer says no’… Whilst it is ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - booktsunami - LibraryThing

The author, Cathy O'Neil, has been an academic, a quant, for a hedge fund and a data scientist with an e commerce start up. In this book she focuses on the problems of relying on algorithms to manage ... Read full review

Contents

Whats a Model?
15
CHAFTER 2
32
CHAPTER 3
50
CHAPTER 4
65
Getting a Job
105
On the Job
123
CHAPTER
147
Getting Insurance
161
SN 139
199
Notes
219
Index
253
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About the author (2016)

Cathy O'Neil is a data scientist and author of the blog mathbabe.org. She earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard and taught at Barnard College before moving to the private sector, where she worked for the hedge fund D. E. Shaw. She then worked as a data scientist at various start-ups, building models that predict people's purchases and clicks. O'Neil started the Lede Program in Data Journalism at Columbia and is the author of Doing Data Science. She is currently a columnist for Bloomberg View.

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