“Math is life” is a statement I tout to my students often. But quite often in our society, the way we use math is to our detriment, instead of our benefit.
Weapons of Math Destruction is a fascinating description of the algorithms we use to describe and predict life and how we are affected by those predictions. Take for example the current trend where companies run credit checks on potential employees before they decide whether to hire an individual. The idea behind this particular part of a background check is that if a person pays his bills on time, and thus has a good credit score, that he will also have good work habits – show up on time, not abuse the health care plan or steal from the company. But there are lots of people with good habits who have low credit scores because of some misfortune. Recent college graduates who might have been lured into credit card hell without the benefit of good credit management might have poor scores but are eager to prove their ability to be good employees. A recent divorcee might have bad credit but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t do a good job if she were hired. Applying some of these predictions means that a person who might be a great employee doesn’t get hired so they are further unable to pay their bills and they spiral into a cycle of underemployment and credit hell.
How has the algorithm helped this person? How has the algorithm helped a company who might have otherwise hired someone who would been a great asset.
The full title of the book is Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy and in it, Cathy O’Neil discusses the real impact of the above and other WMD feedback loops. Read this book if you’re concerned with how the data you produce is really being used to change your life, and what, if anything, you can do to take back control.
I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.
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Author: Cathy O’Neil
I am fascinated by the number 13. I see it everywhere – in addresses, in time on a digital clock. As a college student, I was fascinated by number theory and