Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
One of the funniest bits of Little Britain was where David Walliams as Carol Beer would type a request into the computer, before turning to the customer and saying ‘Computer says no’… Whilst it is funny, it is not so funny when it happens to you. In this book, O’Neil, a former Wall Street quant raises alarm bells on the way that these mathematical models have infiltrated our lives. We don’t see them, but these algorithms that help us with our searches online and finding books, films and other items on online sites are now being used to determine just how much of a risk you are. Next time you want a loan, to renew insurance or just need to get another job O’Neil thinks that some of us may have a problem.
She calls them ‘Weapons of Maths Destruction’; these are incontestable, unregulated and opaque algorithms. They are being used by companies to decide the tiniest details. They are used because they make larger profits for corporations and most worryingly for us is that they are frequently conclude the wrong thing having made incorrect assumptions about individuals. As the saying goes ‘crap in; crap out’…
Having worried the life out of the reader, O’Neil goes onto suggest a variety of things that could help; more regulation, better design of the code and us being aware of their use. The writing is clear, if a little dry and technical at times. The examples are a little American centric, but you can see the way that it is going in the UK. Even though the title mentions the dreaded word maths, it really isn’t that mathematical. Worthwhile reading.
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