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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Now In the Bookstores


The math-powered applications powering the data economy were based on choices made by fallible human beings. Some of these choices were no doubt made with the best of intentions. Nevertheless, many of these models encoded human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias into the software systems that increasingly managed our lives. Like gods, these mathematical models were opaque, their workings invisible to all but the highest priests in their domain: mathematicians and computer scientists. Their verdicts, even when wrong or harmful, were beyond dispute or appeal. And they tended to punish the poor and the oppressed in our society, while making the rich richer…

“Big Data has plenty of evangelists, but I’m not one of them. This book will focus sharply in the other direction, on the damage inflicted by WMD [weapons of math destruction] and the injustice they perpetuate. We will explore harmful examples that affect people at critical life moments: going to college, borrowing money, getting sentenced to prison, or finding and holding a job. All of these life domains are increasingly controlled by secret models wielding arbitrary punishments.
“Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.

— Cathy O’Neil, from the Introduction to “Weapons of Math Destruction

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