Cathy O’Neil, author of ‘Weapons of Math Destruction,’ on the dark side of big data

Cathy O’Neil calls herself a data skeptic. A former hedge fund analyst with a PhD in mathematics from Harvard University, the Occupy Wall Street activist left finance after witnessing the damage wrought by faulty math in the wake of the housing crash.In her latest book, “Weapons of Math Destruction,” O’Neil warns that the statistical models hailed by big data evangelists as the solution to today’s societal problems, like which teachers to fire or which criminals to give longer prison terms, can codify biases and exacerbate inequalities. “Models are opinions embedded in mathematics,” she writes. Although algorithms are everywhere, the most dangerous ones, according to O’Neil, have three characteristics: scale, secrecy and the capacity to do harm.Recently reached by phone, O’Neil spoke about the prevalence of these “weapons of math destruction” across different industries. The conversation…


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