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Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data…

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and… (edition 2016)

by Cathy O'Neil (Author)

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1992759,063 (4.17)12
Title:Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
Authors:Cathy O'Neil (Author)
Info:Crown (2016), 272 pages
Collections:Your library

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Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil



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  bfps0cq | Jan 15, 2017 |
Loved it! Very clear explanation of the mathematical models that govern our lives. It shows us how unfair actual systems can be.
  larg98 | Jan 11, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
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. ( )
  DoctorDebt | Jan 9, 2017 |
Weapons of Math Destruction is one of those books that makes me want to buy a case and send a copy to every person I know. Upton Sinclair once wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” That is true, but there are exceptional people like mathematician Cathy O’Neil who when they come to understand the pernicious effects of what they do, quit their jobs and dedicate themselves to raising the alarm and working to counter the damage.

Weapons of Math Destruction are defined by O’Neil as those algorithms and analytics that are used to make many of the daily decisions that affect people’s lives. She takes care to clarify #NotAllAlgorithms. What makes an algorithm a WMD is when the factors that comprise the algorithm are opaque, unknown to the people affected by it and often even by the people using it. It operates on a large scale, affecting large swaths of people. Worse, it is unaccountable. It does not gather data to see if it makes the right decisions, it does not self-correct. It just runs and lives are changed and no one is the wise to its operations. And most of the time, these algorithms make the poor poorer, the rich richer, and make life harder for those whose lives are already hard.

These algorithms are with us everywhere we turn. They evaluate our teachers, determine prison sentences and parole releases, determine whether we are hired, promoted, fired, insured, surveilled, and how much we pay for things. E-scores even determine how long you wait for customer service, a good score guiding you to a human and a poor one shunting you off to call center hell. Data that shows you don’t shop around results in insurance companies charging you hundreds of dollars more, never offering the discounts they will offer to people whose scores say they comparison-shop. Even in politics, your cookies reveal data that has a politician’s front page show you different pictures and issues than they show your neighbor.

When governments make it illegal for companies to use data like credit scores or race, they turn to other options like e-scores, an unregulated mass of data collection used to create profiles of all of us, sold and used without our knowledge. These e-scores could include false data from other people with similar names and yet result in higher car insurance, worse commercial offers from retailers, higher prices on cars, and a raft of other things.

I loved Weapons of Math Destruction. It is even-handed, pointing out that many of these processes began with good intentions. O’Neil shows that quantitative analysis can be used for good and gives examples. She is not anti-math nor anti-analytics. She wants them to be more transparent and be open to correction. People need to know when algorithms are used against them. We know about credit scores, but there’s so many others, hidden behind “Intellectual Property” rights that allow companies to hide what factors influence our scores. Often these factors have nothing to do with us individually, but with people who seem, on the surface, like us.

Read this book! It is accessible, explaining in easy-to-understand terms exactly what is happening and how it affects us. Accessibility does not sacrifice rigor and a full 30% of the book is devoted to citations that sustain her argument. It is urgent, because every day algorithms encroach on our lives even more. It is fascinating, full of shocking and surprising stories of people whose lives are changed by this, that, or the other score. It has useful tips, such as clearing your cookies before shopping so you are not logged in will result in more discount offers. Most of all, read it because there is really are secret forces, operating under the surface, affecting our lives from birth to death, at work, at home, at play. They will only gain power so long as we are unaware of them.

I received a review copy of Weapons of Math Destruction from Blogging For Books
http://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/weapons-of-math-destructio... ( )
1 vote Tonstant.Weader | Dec 17, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
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. ( )
  sullijo | Nov 3, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553418815, Hardcover)

A former Wall Street quant sounds an alarm on mathematical modeling—a pervasive new force in society that threatens to undermine democracy and widen inequality.
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 shocking 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 race or neighborhood), 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, from college to retirement, O’Neil exposes the black box models that shape our future, both as individuals and as a society. Models that score teachers and students, sort resumes, grant (or deny) loans, evaluate workers, target voters, set parole, and monitor our health—all have pernicious feedback loops. They don’t simply describe reality, as proponents claim, they change reality, by expanding or limiting the opportunities people have. O’Neil calls on modelers to take more responsibility for how their algorithms are being used. 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 15 Apr 2016 20:07:53 -0400)

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