Episode 7: Cathy O'Neil - Weapons of Math Destruction
Cathy O'Neil is the author of Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
It's a sight familiar to anyone who's applied for a job in recent years. The treacherous 'personality questionnaire'. Are you someone who 'finds it difficult to be cheerful when there are many problems to take care of' or 'do you need a push to get started on your work?'. Which answer is sought by the employer? You may never find out, as these questionnaires form part of a burgeoning industry in data analytics where algorithms that claim to quantify important traits are used from everything to selecting job applicants to deciding insurance premiums and prison sentences.
Cathy O'Neil, a former quant on Wall Street, and someone who is well familiar with, and critical of, opaque mathematical models that try to define risk, says society needs to wake up to the danger posed by these flawed algorithms.
In our interview, she gives specific examples of cases where these algorithms have caused havoc - from models which formalise a company's internal culture of sexism to healthcare insurance which only insures the healthy.
As personal information becomes ever more readily accessible, are we destined to forever be haunted by bad credit scores and previous health conditions?
Photo Credit: Adam Morganstern
Cathy O’Neil is a data scientist and author of the blog mathbabe.org. She earned a PhD in mathematics from Harvard and taught at Barnard College before moving to the private sector, where she worked for the hedge fund D. E. Shaw. She is currently a columnist for Bloomberg View.