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Thursday, February 02, 2017

Yes, Even Algorithms Can Break Bad | PYMNTS.com

"Math, as it turns out, is doing more than making millions of teenagers unhappy over hard homework right now — it’s also making the world less democratic and egalitarian. In the wrong hands, mathematics can become a “WMD” — a weapon of math destruction." argues Cathy O’Neil.

Photo: PYMNTS.com

Most people, especially those who still have flashbacks about the Calculus SAT II, will probably not find the former all that surprising — they will just add it to the list of things they don’t like about math. But even those avid math haters would likely be surprised by the source of the latter observation.



Cathy O’Neil does not hate math. In fact, she’s a mathematics PhD from Harvard, a professor, a data scientist and a former financial services quant. Cathy O’Neil loves math so much that when she was a child she used to factor license plates for fun. But she’s not exactly your typical mathematician either, since she’s probably the only name in the game who is willing to say that representative democracy in the digital age — is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Well, that’s actually not exactly what she said…

“People keep suggesting that democracy is alive and well because we have two parties that don’t agree on everything. I think that’s total bull—-.”

She’s a lot more fun than the math professor you had in college.

She’s also a lot more skeptical about math — and its powers to the good.

Math alone isn’t a problem, she said — it’s not a weapon, massively destructive or otherwise, it’s just a method for finding answers. O’Neil’s trouble is with algorithms — rule-based processes for solving mathematical problems — and the ever-increasing ways they are deciding more and more of our lives, mostly from within a black box that the average math-hating citizen has no access to — and is actively steered away from gaining access to.

It was an observation she came by during her years as a Wall Street quant between 2007 and 2011, when she first started seeing that algorithms were becoming something like weapons of math destruction. These algorithms are defined by three main features: they are secretive, important and destructive for all but the precious few who actually understood them and what went into them.
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Additional resources
Cathy O'Neil - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Source: PYMNTS.com and PdF YouTube Channel (YouTube)


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