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

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Recently on HBO's "Last Week Tonight," John Oliver put forth that North Carolina's new requirements for proof of registration at polling places had in effect "Moneyballed racism."  With that coinage (borrowed from Michael Lewis's chronicle of the uber use of statistics in baseball), Oliver has also summed up the heart of this book: the unintended and unfair consequences of using big data in rating our schoolteachers, deciding who goes and serves how much time in prison, and who pays the most for college.  Read WMD (author O'Neil's term for an ever more complex statistical model that renders great harm to our society) and weep.  You probably already know about the misuse of supposedly neutral data and its complicity in the recession of 2008. But you will never see prison and recidivism, college football and student loans, or even car insurance, in the same light again. O'Neil is a former quant and author of the Mathbabe blog. She proves to us that statistics not only lie--they steal.

— From Carla's Picks

Description


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 resumes, 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.

About the Author


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.


Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780553418811
ISBN-10: 0553418815
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (NY)
Publication Date: September 6th, 2016
Pages: 272
Language: English