NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A former Wall Street quant sounds the alarm on Big Data and the mathematical models that threaten to rip apart our social fabric—with a new afterword
“A manual for the twenty-first-century citizen . . . relevant and urgent.”—Financial Times
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • The Boston Globe • Wired • Fortune • Kirkus Reviews • The Guardian • Nature • On Point
We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we can get a job or a loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by machines. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules.
But as mathematician and data scientist Cathy O’Neil reveals, the mathematical models being used today are unregulated and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination—propping up the lucky, punishing the downtrodden, and undermining our democracy in the process. Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.
This taut and accessible volume, the stuff of technophobes' nightmares, explores the myriad ways in which large-scale data modeling has made the world a less just and equal place. O'Neil speaks from a place of authority on the subject: a Barnard professor turned Wall Street quant, she renounced the latter profession after the 2008 market collapse and decided to educate laypeople. Unlike some other recent books about data collection, hers is not hysterical; she offers more of a chilly wake-up call as she walks readers through the ways the "big data" industry has facilitated social ills such as skyrocketing college tuitions, policing based on racial profiling, and high unemployment rates in vulnerable communities. She also homes in on the ways these systems are frequently destructive even to the privileged: sloppy data-gathering companies misidentify people and flag them as criminals, and algorithms determine employee value during company-wide firings. The final chapter, in which O'Neil discusses Facebook's increasing electoral influence, feels eerily prescient. She offers no one easy solution, but has several reasonable suggestions as to how the future can be made more equitable and transparent for all.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Engaging and informative
This book was filled with examples of weapons of math destruction in a variety of fields, which made it accessible and interesting. It also explained things without using much jargon, which made it an easy read. It’s premises were backed by facts and statistics, and it’s argument was persuasive.
Peaking Behind the Curtain of Data Science
Cathy O’Neils work illuminates all of the problems with poorly thought out Algorithms and Models (Weapons of Math Destruction), when unleashed on an unsuspecting public, can deepen divides, falsely reaffirm prejudices, and compound social ills in the pursuit of efficacy. In clear and well written language, O’Neil spells out for the layman and experienced Data Scientist alike, the definition of a Weapon of Math Destruction and its key traits. She also does a great job of providing clear and actionable ways we can spot, prevent, and hold these models accountable. I believe this book is essential reading for everyone in our modern data driven culture. Reminding the builders of their fiduciary responsibility to uphold fairness in their modeling design; and teaching the Everyman how to spot the models and data gathering being applied to them. Wonderfully written and commanding.
Timely and wonderful
This is a wonderful book. You don’t have to love math in order to appreciate the challenges we face in using our vast and expanding computing power for good, while avoiding the bad.