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

Product info (from Goodreads):

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.

My impressions:

It was a very informative, non-fiction book which taught me a lot. I really appreciate the fact that the author didn’t want to advertise her own professional knowlegde by inudating her readers with technical jargon and boasting of her own achievements. This book is clearly aimed at ordinary people, doing ordinary jobs, not big thinkers, IT nerds, or mathematicians. Some reviewers have criticized O’Neil for such a ‘simplistic’ approach but in my view it is rather a big asset. After all, if you are working in IT and dealing with (or even writing) algorithms which might act as weapons of math destruction, I presume you should be already aware of their noxious influence and you don’t need to read this position at all.

When it comes to my private opinion, I found just one fault: the fact that Cathy O’Neil was focusing almost all the time on problems you can encounter in the USA, whereas I feel WMD should concern people around the globe. Look at the reach of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.

Final verdict:

A very important book that highlights a lot of what’s been going on in America over the past 30 or 40 years and what’s wrong with Big Data. A must-read even if you are from Europe – believe me or not, Big Data will find you sooner or later so it’s better to be prepared.

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2 Responses to Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil

  1. blodeuedd says:

    But there is not other country in the world except America, right?

  2. Carole Rae says:

    I feel like books like this only focus on America even though Social Media and other things stretch globally. Even if they could do a comparison would be nice.

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