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

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

3/5

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Currently unavailable on Scribd

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A former Wall Street quant sounds the alarm on Big Data and the mathematical models that threaten to rip apart our social fabric—with a new afterword
 
“A manual for the twenty-first-century citizen . . . relevant and urgent.”—Financial Times
 
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review The Boston GlobeWired • Fortune • Kirkus Reviews • The Guardian • Nature • On Point
 
We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we can get a job or a loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by machines. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules.
 
But as mathematician and data scientist Cathy O’Neil reveals, the mathematical models being used today are unregulated and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination—propping up the lucky, punishing the downtrodden, and undermining our democracy in the process. Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.
LanguageEnglish
Release dateSep 6, 2016
ISBN9780553418828
Unavailable
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
Author

Cathy O'Neil

Cathy O’Neil is the author of Weapons of Math Destruction.

Reviews for Weapons of Math Destruction

Rating: 3.06269592476489 out of 5 stars
3/5

319 ratings39 reviews

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  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    A chilling analysis of the big data algorithms that rule our society in ways we don’t always realise, and how their results impact us negatively, increasing inequalities and injustices in groups where it would be most needed. Most of the chapters focus on the American reality, but it’s not hard to imagine how they would translate to our side of the pond.
    Highly recommended.
  • Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
    2/5
    This book spent a lot of time telling stories and avoided taking a deeper dive on data science. A lot of this would have been better suited to a series of longer blog posts. If you’re interested in data science and how it’s affecting the world around us, I would suggest looking elsewhere.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    Yes, this book does deserve its title in all caps.Written by Cathy O’Neal, who loves numbers possibly more than I do, this book does an excellent job of showing the public all of the algorithms that rule our lives that aren’t ideal and why they aren’t ideal. In a non-mathy way, which makes me quite sad and why I have rated this book 4/5. I wanted my math!Back to the book. What makes this book great is O’Neal doesn’t just talk about the worst WMDs (Weapons of Math Destruction – and remember that, because that is how she refers to them) but also covers some systems that DO work really well and WHY they work. If you are frustrated with the outcomes that keep coming up in your life, read this book. If you hate math but want to understand what is going on with all those ads, how what you do can affect so many different things throughout you life!Well written and easy to read, this book was flowing and well paced. A good read, I don’t want to spoil this for anyone interested. It’s worth the read and no single part is better than the rest. If you are interested in what controls so many things around you, read this. Read this now.I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    3/5
    Dear Weapons,

    Job changers can rationalize anything. That's ok. They probably need to. But you write about that in the first person a little too much for me to take it all as seriously as maybe I am supposed to?

    This was a dnf for me. Not because it wasn't kinda interesting anyway, it was.

    Not because even though I got tired of you explaining why you worked for the dark side til you didn't over and over again, because that was actually interesting too.

    But because my ILL got recalled.

    I'll look for you again because I still want to learn more about what you have to say.

    Sincerely,
    Don't want my privileges revoked
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    A nice overview of the misuses and inherent biases of many different decision-making tools based on "big data". O'Neil dubs these biased algorithms "Weapons of Math Destruction", and provides many examples of the negative effects of these tools, in particular, of the disenfranchisement, social immobility, credit traps, price gouging, and other nastiness done to poor people in the name of efficiency and profit. Luckily for the poor, these algorithms are also increasingly affecting middle class people in similar ways, as companies insinuate they way into people's driving habits, recreational choices, "wellness", psychological state, and political relevance.She calls for careful ethical consideration and assessment of these toxic algorithms, but I was left feeling that the political will to regulate these tools is unlikely to be there for us, especially as these tools are exceptionally helpful for businesses to maximize their profits at the expense of employees and customers alike. Add in her observations that many of the worst offenders either actively help the richest Americans or can be avoided by the application of a bit of money, and it's hard to see any hope of change until such time as some sufficiently horrible event occurs that affectis a broad enough range of people to force change. (Just kidding, obviously, as the 2008 financial crisis would have seemed like just the sort of thing to make the government punish offenders and regulate the financial industry, but that certainly didn't happen.)
  • Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
    2/5
    This book just wasn't for me, I think. I didn't finish it and it will be passed along to someone who can appreciate it more. I gave up at the halfway point. I liked the subject, just didn't like the writing style!
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    O'Neil takes us on a journey through life, and explains how big data, although useful in many capacities, can be detrimental to the lives of many people such as low income, minorities, and the mentally ill. A main take away is that for big data models to be successful there needs to be continuous "smart" evolution of models using data gathered overtime, and an acknowledgment that there can be harm done to some segments of the population. This was well worth the read, and something I would suggest to those interested in the implications of big data on society.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    3/5
    Cathy O'Neil's book is original and timely. No other book that I know of addresses the topic of the application of algorithms to our daily lives, and this topic will rapidly become more important as private and public entities at all levels utilize algorithms with increasing frequency to make decisions with little or no human input. Algorithms are mathematical models that apply a set of rules to data in order to help classify or make decisions about the data set. Taking decisions out of people's hands is ostensibly a good thing under many circumstances where prejudice has historically impeded advancement of specific groups within the American landscape. However O'Neil deftly describes some fundamental problems with the applied vs. theoretical algorithms. I would summarize this as a problem with scale, refinement, and suitability. O'Neil explains how algorithms can be used at the wrong scale, have ho feedback of outcomes in order to refine them, and/or are applied to data for which they were never designed to function. She does this through a series of anecdotes where the use of algorithms has had serious negative impacts on individuals or groups, and she puts a human face on the outliers - the people who have suffer when algorithms fail, when they always do for some portion of the data.Given her deep and varied background in data science, O'Neil has the expertise to address the algorithms at their constructive level, however, the reader may be left a bit wanting for a deeper explanation of exactly how the algorithms in question is flawed. I think readers will find this either relieving or frustrating. As a scientist, there were times when I wanted a deeper explanation of the nature of a particular algorithm's flaw, but this is a book of social commentary at its heart, and many readers will welcome the absence of the particulars. Due in part to O"Neil's clear writing, you do not need any mathematical background to read and understand the book. Essentially, O'Neil makes the argument that people are not pieces of data, and if they are treated as such (as they will increasingly be), then there will be serious human consequences. While I don't agree with every argument, it is an important book and one which I am glad to have read, and I recommend it.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    A very readable discussion about the exponential rise in the use of mathematical models to analyze everything from consumer preferences to where crime is most likely to occur to college rankings. O'Neill has a broad background in the use of mathematics and statistical modelling and writes in an engaging manner. Unfortunately the book is long on anecdote and short on verification. She has world view that happens to match mine in many ways, but I'm not comfortable using anecdotes to reach conclusions. Thus, I say it's worth reading to get a good overview of the questions to ask but not for the conclusions she reaches. More data would be required for that. Of course that would make it a less engaging book but there you go.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    This cleverly-titled book seems to have been a direct response to the Occupy movement and is a very focused and well-argued overview of some of the decision algorithms that influence all aspects of society. Over the ten chapters of the book, O'Neil introduces us to different algorithms in ten areas of modern society and then slowly goes through how they were implemented and how they can be biased against certain groups. O'Neil does an excellent job translating the math into very understandable examples and walking the reader through how so many of these algorithms are used in different areas of modern society. The examples do seem slightly repetitive but her focus on pulling the cover back never wavers and provides something tangible for the reader to be frustrated about. Even though I thought I know about many of these algorithms, I definitely thought more about this issue such as why do I have to provide my SSN number to sign up for a cell phone. Hopefully with more people reading this we will be able to demand more transparency in these algorithms which could lead to a more just society.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    Cathy O'Neil's Weapons of Math Destruction explores how the use of data mining and "neutral" algorithms wind up having a much larger impact on our lives than we might suspect. O'Neil covers a variety of subjects, including employment, advertising, political engagement, and consumer credit, demonstrating how businesses use complex mathematical systems to pad their bottom line without addressing real and pervasive discrimination.As much commentary as explanation, O'Neil is particularly interested in how these algorithms create and sustain feedback loops which perpetuate the very stereotypes and discriminatory practices they were meant to alleviate.Weapons of Math Destruction does not require an understanding of advanced math, and O'Neil does a good job of explaining the underlying principals without relying on jargon. I would recommend it to anyone interested in how technological systems are playing an increasing -- and invisible role -- in shaping our society.N.B.: I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    Excellent repudiation of the prevailing ideology/religion of dataism. Its limitations and dangers. The stories presented here are not anecdotal or edge-case, they are central and impact nearly all of us. Dataism is seductive and the fault is usually not with the mathematicians or programmers, but management who wields them in ways they don't understand. The solution is to have a balance of algorithm and humans, with semi-automated systems helping decision makers. This is already happening with some robo-trader products that are a mix of algo and human. Regardless this issue will continue to grow and likely lead to a backlash at some point in the future as we continue to work out how to integrate computers safely into society.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    3/5
    upsetting, not surprising.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    Very timely book. Cathy, once a data analyst for D.E. Shaw, illuminates the inhumane direction of humanity through algorithms. These algorithms separate class and race amongst other things. Education, auto insurance, Facebook is all under scrutiny for their manipulation of the unaware public.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    Finding a book authored by an Ivy League mathematician that is both interesting and relatable to non-mathematicians is always a nice surprise. The information O'Neil provides on often-unregulated data brokering and predictive software programs is fresh, crucial, and backed up by many examples of actual and potential problems (as well as assorted proposed solutions) for American consumers and business leaders of all types. Even if number crunching isn't your bag, I recommend reading it to gain awareness of new computational technology trends that directly impact your wallet--and your privacy--in invisible ways. Should definitely be on educator/criminal justice/finance major reading lists. I'd probably have rated it higher, but she lost a couple notches with me for obvious lapses in political impartiality in a book devoted to quantitative mathematical science.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    Although this book focuses on math, models and algorithms, Cathy O'Neill manages to bypass all of the technical jargon and explain how these models work in plain English. O'Neill's key point are that many of these models, such as evaluating teacher performance by using test scores, software used to determine which resumes to look at for a job, and models designed to predict where crime will happen are unfair. She uses that term a lot, but she makes a compelling argument to back it up. Her main points are that certain models (but not all) have the ability to devastate and discriminate against a whole section of people, ad are currently doing so. The models that do this she calls Weapons of Math Destruction or WMDs. WMDs have three key components that make them dangerous, and without any one of them, they wouldn't be. These three characteristics are: Opacity on how the models makes determinations/what factors are included, Scale (only software that can affect a large number of people are WMDs), and lastly, these models have no feedback loop for errors. To clarify that last point, these models don't know when they've got it wrong. There is no way for it to know if a teacher it recommended get fired was actually a good teacher that eventually became principal at his or her new school and improved student success. There is no way for it to know if a person whose resume they weeded out would have taken the company into new directions. As she says on page 133, "The system has no inkling that it got one person, or even a thousand people entirely wrong." There simply isn't a way for the model to know that it's gotten it wrong, and rethink things. O'Neill spends most of the book going into detail about many different models and their unfairness. Part of the problems is that in our society's effort to create models to predict behavior, we use proxies so that we can manipulate the numbers, but proxies can never represent the real thing because life is complicated and cannot be boiled down to a set of numbers. Often these proxies help misrepresent the truth and in the case of most of these models, the ones who suffer are often those who are poor because the data that can be gathered on them doesn't read well: credit scores, zip codes, education, etc. None of these data points however, can tell you if they're trying to put their life back together but circumstances have been cruel, and so a large population of underserved people are now underserved by software. As she says on page 204, "Big Data processes codify the past. They do not invent the future." When a algorithm reinforces the past, it reinforces all of the things that come along with it, including the racism and, the classism and spits that back out. O'Neill only stops to tell us how to fix this problem in the conclusion. After promising for the whole book to talk about how to fix this problem, it's only in the last twenty pages that she gets down to her proposed solutions. While her solutions seem good, they didn't seem as well researched as the rest of the book, and I felt rushed between one solution to the next. The only solution that seemed like it might actually work was the one that the EU implemented, only because it had actually been done before. If O'Neill had spent as much time researching and writing about her solutions as she did on even a fourth of the book, it would be a much better book, but instead it feels a little one-sided, without much of an idea on how to change this and move forward, much like some of the models she discusses. This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    What happens when we place value in statistics that aren't always accurate? What happens when a group of people blindly accept these untested and opaque models as the foundation for their society? In search for a utopian society, Big Data promises to deliver us to a dystonian society where everything is for sale and we can expect as many false positives as positives. The consequences of this data economy are huge, it is responsible for many negative factors in our society such as inequality and the loss of our civil liberties. Man is stripped of his human nature and reduced to a scientific animal with human behaviorism, he is only capable and the extent of his environment. "Data over people" is the message of this book, the author puts forth many examples of how we've truly lost touch with reality. Even though these data models are known to be wrong, there is no feedback loop or agenda to fix them. We accept everything and question nothing, as a result our future looks bleak and terrible. Individuals that are out-of-touch with the world will be dictating the path the world goes.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    I wish this book were required reading for the human race. O'Neil does a masterful job of taking us through several issues and showing us how our reliance on Big Data - and our blind worship of anything that smacks of math and statistics - is hurting us. O'Neil starts the book with an example of teachers fired for poor performance, and how the school districts involved had no idea how the performance was being measured. They hired an outside firm to do it, and the model the outside firm used was a black box. It's such a scary idea - someone can get fired and no one - not even that person's boss - knows why, except that some third party said some 'score' they assigned the employee was bad. The school districts might as well flip a coin, for all the good such 'evaluation' of performance does for them.O'Neil then goes on to explain the sort of models that are used in Big Data, and how some of them are fine, and some of them are WMDs: Weapons of Math Destruction. She goes on to cover college admissions, online advertising, the criminal justice system, getting a job, job performance, applying for credit, and getting insurance - and she shows how there are models at play that take data and do really stupid things with it. More importantly, there is no feedback loop to these models, or the feedback loop is broken, so the models are never improved. Also, O'Neil shows how there can be a cascading effect: if one model does someone harm by, say, denying them credit, that can then have a negative impact in other areas of that person's life, like trying to get or keep a job. This is a very important book, and O'Neil does a really good job of making something potentially dull into a real page-turner. I highly recommend this book.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    A very important read. Eye opening!! I knew I was affected by some of this, but seeing how the war on the poor is reinforced by WMD's really opened my eyes. Highly recommended!
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    3/5
    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 funny, it is not so funny when it happens to you. In this book, O’Neil, a former Wall Street quant raises alarm bells on the way that these mathematical models have infiltrated our lives. We don’t see them, but these algorithms that help us with our searches online and finding books, films and other items on online sites are now being used to determine just how much of a risk you are. Next time you want a loan, to renew insurance or just need to get another job O’Neil thinks that some of us may have a problem.

    She calls them ‘Weapons of Maths Destruction’; these are incontestable, unregulated and opaque algorithms. They are being used by companies to decide the tiniest details. They are used because they make larger profits for corporations and most worryingly for us is that they are frequently conclude the wrong thing having made incorrect assumptions about individuals. As the saying goes ‘crap in; crap out’…

    Having worried the life out of the reader, O’Neil goes onto suggest a variety of things that could help; more regulation, better design of the code and us being aware of their use. The writing is clear, if a little dry and technical at times. The examples are a little American centric, but you can see the way that it is going in the UK. Even though the title mentions the dreaded word maths, it really isn’t that mathematical. Worthwhile reading.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    3/5
    Although I do not disagree with the content, it is a bit of a ramble and repetitive.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    This book offers a big bucket of ice water to pour over your enthusiasm for big data and analytics. It?s an antidote for techno-utopian hype, a cautionary lesson for those who work with data, and an eye-opener for everyone else who lives in our data-obsessed world. As it turns out, there?s a downside. Who knew?I?ve read a number of books about analytics and big data (pick your buzzword), and sometimes there?s a mention about the possibility of privacy concerns. In Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O?Neil shows us that the loss of privacy is just the beginning of the mischief that can come from the misuse of analytics. From unintended consequences to intentionally predatory industries, the systems that offer to optimize business decisions sometimes cause significant harm. O?Neil?s describes weapons of math destruction (cleverly abbreviated to WMDs) as systems which (1) harm the subjects of inquiry (2) at scale (3) without accountability. Black-box scores are automating decisions about education, employment, credit, and even prison terms. Even the seemingly harmless activity of choosing which ads to show a web browser sometimes embodies the dark preferences of predatory businesses.Everyone who works with data about people?every analyst, every data scientist, every data enthusiast?ought to read this book. The specific examples of models that work against people are worth considering, and they should be the starting point for a longer exploration of how, and why, to limit the automation of decision-making.I hope that schools that teach analytics will include it in their Ethics of Analytics courses, too. If they don?t have that ethics course yet, this book provides an excellent illustration of why they should.The book itself is a quick read, if not one designed to make the reader particularly happy about the world. It?s worth reading to the end, where O?Neil starts?just?to get into solutions. This book is just the start of the conversation, but it?s a worthy start.The book itself is a quick read, if not one designed to make the reader particularly happy about the world. But this is the world we live in, and all of us interact with these systems all the time. Take the red pill, and be aware of what you may be up against.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    I really wanted to like this book; and while it was an easy & pleasant read, I was hoping that the author would go into a bit more depth regarding the actual types of 'math' that BIG data uses. What calculations are used to determine patterns? How are trends discovered?...What kind of powerful statistical procedures are used in analyzing the sea of data that is produced by the internet data pools? The examples were real and thought-provoking. I believed her warning about the danger of these tools for our democracy. However, I felt the author's theme in this book was scatter-shot and needed to be more focused on the specialty of data science. But overall, I am glad that I read it. #bigdata

    1 person found this helpful

  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    This book offers a big bucket of ice water to pour over your enthusiasm for big data and analytics. It’s an antidote for techno-utopian hype, a cautionary lesson for those who work with data, and an eye-opener for everyone else who lives in our data-obsessed world. As it turns out, there’s a downside. Who knew?I’ve read a number of books about analytics and big data (pick your buzzword), and sometimes there’s a mention about the possibility of privacy concerns. In Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O’Neil shows us that the loss of privacy is just the beginning of the mischief that can come from the misuse of analytics. From unintended consequences to intentionally predatory industries, the systems that offer to optimize business decisions sometimes cause significant harm. O’Neil’s describes weapons of math destruction (cleverly abbreviated to WMDs) as systems which (1) harm the subjects of inquiry (2) at scale (3) without accountability. Black-box scores are automating decisions about education, employment, credit, and even prison terms. Even the seemingly harmless activity of choosing which ads to show a web browser sometimes embodies the dark preferences of predatory businesses.Everyone who works with data about people—every analyst, every data scientist, every data enthusiast—ought to read this book. The specific examples of models that work against people are worth considering, and they should be the starting point for a longer exploration of how, and why, to limit the automation of decision-making.I hope that schools that teach analytics will include it in their Ethics of Analytics courses, too. If they don’t have that ethics course yet, this book provides an excellent illustration of why they should.The book itself is a quick read, if not one designed to make the reader particularly happy about the world. It’s worth reading to the end, where O’Neil starts—just—to get into solutions. This book is just the start of the conversation, but it’s a worthy start.The book itself is a quick read, if not one designed to make the reader particularly happy about the world. But this is the world we live in, and all of us interact with these systems all the time. Take the red pill, and be aware of what you may be up against.
  • Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    1/5
    O'Neil spoke at the 2016 Wisconsin Book Festival, where I enjoyed her powerpoint and wit enough to pick up a copy of this book. I hoped for a more nuanced discussion of the issues than her speech had provided, and I was disappointed.

    O'Neil addresses the ways that sorting algorithms change lives by means of imprisonment, policing, employment, and democracy in a digital age, as well as issues of insurance and marketing. These issues are extremely important, critical for life in the 21st century, and tools for the exacerbation or removal of institutionalized privilege and prejudice, yet organization and prioritization remove the teeth this book might have had. O'Neil comes from a personal history of working closely with some of the institutions that perpetuate these, and has a broad technical background that allows her to understand and explain why they work the way they do. But what she has produced here is an impassioned manifesto against specific algorithms instead of clear-headed discussion.

    She drives the first half of the book by her own narrative which, though briefly engaging, is not relevant or vast enough to sustain that much of a book with such a wide scope. O'Neil arranges each chapter similarly, devoting each to a situation in which these algorithms are employed and presenting background data. (Sidenote: this book seems to me to be well-researched, and I had no factual doubts.) The accounts of the algorithms and the damage they cause were punctuated not by countering examples of algorithms in similar situations doing well, or possible solutions, but with generalized opinions from O'Neil on what is wrong with society and whose fault it is. I reached the last topical chapter and feared that her outlook was entirely pessimistic--perhaps even advocating primitivism, since she did not seem to suggest any solutions for these exclusively technological problems--but in the conclusion, all the hopeful counter-examples and anecdotes are collected. This prevents them being seen as practical solutions and evaluated alongside the harmful examples, where they could be usefully contrasted.

    O'Neil's editorializing prevents this book from being a good basic source on these problems. She evaluates most problems in an urban internet setting, and does not address the losses faced by those who do not have access at all to these systems--a demographic that perhaps stands to lose even more, by not registering as human in an increasingly online world. She also uses "employers," "insurers," "our society," and other terms so generally that her declarations stretch credibility. Each issue in this book could have been addressed more concisely, with more nuance, and more detail had this editorializing been cut. Because of the relevance of this content, and the necessity for clear information on it, these were oversights I could not forgive.

    The best part of this book by far was the section of Chapter 10, "The Targeted Citizen: Civic Life" that dealt with targeted political advertising and the effect of social media on the voting process. The information was new and more specific, and the inside perspective useful.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    Interesting introduction to the science and politics of big data by a mathematician who was on the front lines of the 2008 crash.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    Big data and algorithms are supposed to be the "savior" of our modern world. With them, a corporation, or a government, is supposed to be able to measure and analyze nearly anything. What if those algorithms are very flawed?Among the suggestions to fix American education is to get rid of bad teachers. Standardized test scores are one way to find those bad teachers. What if the students didn't learn the basics of math, for instance, in a lower grade? What if the teachers in that lower grade blatantly corrected the standardized tests, before submitting them, to make themselves look better? If the test scores for a class are not as good as the algorithm predicted, then that teacher is out the door.Crime prediction software sounds like a godsend to cash-strapped police departments. Why not concentrate resources in areas where there is predicted to be a better chance of crime, instead of everywhere? If the police department includes "nuisance" crime, like underage drinking or pot smoking in public, the algorithm will send units to that neighborhood on an increased basis. If it happens to be a minority neighborhood, and is otherwise law-abiding, the residents can expect more incidences of "stop and frisk." Again, changing that algorithm is not possible. At work, it is not possible to change the algorithm that makes the schedule for the employees because this person has transportation issues or that person has child care issues. "Clopening" is when an employee of Starbucks, for instance, closes the store at 11 PM, then has to return in a few hours to open up the next morning, and work a full shift. Algorithms have their good and bad parts. The biggest bad part is that there is no way to change them, and get them to conform to the real world. Written by a data scientist, this book is a big eye-opener and is very much worth reading.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    3/5
    I wanted to like this book. Weapons of Math Destruction is a pleasant read. The world of big data analysis is presented in an entertaining manner. Cathy O’Neil uncovers insidious traits of biased mathematical models in various facets of modern life: applying to colleges, applying for a job, the criminal justice system, teacher performance, applying for loans, etc.Throughout the book O’Neil attempts to build the case that the lower class is often the victim of biased model analysis (WMD) while the upper class is untouched. “The privileged, we’ll see time and again, are processed more by people, the masses by machines.” This argument is hammered home time and time again as it supports the subtitle of this book: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy.What bothers me is that some very basic premises go unexamined. Under the guise of “big data,” “modeling analytics,” and “algorithms” much of the nuts and bolts of data manipulation is of a statistical nature. Just because we have access to massive amounts of data, why do we feel compelled to use it? How predictive can it be? How much certainty is good enough, 75%, 85%, 95%? Statistical results all have caveats. They do not provide truths. Much of this book offers thought-provoking correlations. But, that is all, just correlations, not facts. Social engineering is a slippery slope even when the goal is to “create a model for the common good.” Readers interested in the underbelly of statistical analysis might want to read How to Lie with Statistics written by Darrell Huff in 1954. It’s still in print.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    5/5
    Cathy O’Neill’s Weapons of Math Destruction is an approachable, easy to digest book on a big, complex subject: big data and how it affects our everyday lives. It covers several areas people may be familiar with in passing, but probably haven’t thought much about (college rankings, for example), and how algorithms and big data come into play with each of them – not necessarily to our benefit. The second to last chapter – dealing with algorithms undermining democracy – is particularly timely, given the last election cycle. Recommended reading for those interested in business information systems, big data, and ethics in the age of technology.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    4/5
    Weapons of Math Destruction, How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil. The over the top subtitle fairly well summarizes what the premise of the book is. WMD’s are mathematical models or algorithms that are used predict human behavior, and aide in decision making. In benign situations these models determine who you are matched with on dating sites, what movies Netflix's suggest you see, the products Amazon offers you and things of that ilk. In less than benign situations these models come up with the probabilities that suggest which person maybe a bad hire, a risky borrower, or a potential terrorist. These models determine if you receive advertisements from a payday loan service, a mutual fund company or determine how you are sentenced in criminal cases. O’Neil argues that the continuous use of these programs can create loops that keep the poor, poor and allow the rich to get richer. These models lack transparency, the results tend to unquestioned, and the creators are unaccountable for their actions.

    O’Neil is unapologetically biased against the widespread use of big data and WMD’s. The book focuses on the damage done by these models and social injustice they wreak on the populous. O’Neil’s does a good job in support of her premise. She uses over 200 citations in addition to extensive footnotes and the book has a good index. O’Neil is highly qualified author in this field. She has a Ph.D in mathematics from Harvard and is considered an authority in the field. She is a good writer, although each chapter follows a similar pattern. Each chapter covers a specific area of concern covering topics from college admissions, hiring practices, loan approval, and online advertising. She then demonstrates the harmful effects of big data and WMD’s. Politically she believes, “Successful micro-targeting, in part, explains why in 2015 more than 43 percent of Republicans ---still believe the that President Obama is a Muslin and that 20 percent believe he was born outside the United States”. Her solution to this issue involves more government oversight, greater transparency in the industry, and European style individual control of their data.