Cathy O’Neil

For many of the businesses running these rogue algorithms, the money pouring in seems to prove and it makes sense. When they’re building statistical systems to find customers or manipulate desperate borrowers, growing revenue appears to show that they’re on the right track. The software is doing its job. The trouble is that profits end up serving as a stand-in, or proxy, for truth.
This happens because data scientists all too often lose sight of the folks on the receiving end of the transaction. They certainly understand that a data-crunching program is bound to misinterpret people a certain percentage of the time, putting them in the wrong groups and denying them a job or a chance at their dream house. But as a rule, the people running the WMDs don’t dwell on those errors. Their feedback is money, which is also their incentive. Their systems are engineered to gobble up more data and fine-tune their analytics so that more money will pour in. Investors, of course, feast on these returns and shower WMD companies with more money.

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3 Responses to Cathy O’Neil

  1. shinichi says:

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

    by Cathy O’Neil

    **

    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 résumés, 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.

  2. shinichi says:

    Ill-conceived mathematical models now micromanage the economy, from advertising to prisons. These WMDs (Weapons of Math Destructions) have many of the same characteristics. They’re opaque, unquestioned, and unaccountable, and they operate at a scale to sort, target, or “optimize” millions of people. By confusing their findings with on-the-ground reality, most of them create pernicious WMD feedback loops.

  3. shinichi says:

    WMDとは、人々を評価する、ランク付けする、分類する、あるいは人々の行動を予測するなどの目的で作られた統計的数学的モデルであり、大規模に使用され、間違っていて、不公正で、有害で、不透明で、自己成就予言的であるといった特徴を持つものである。

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