Book Review: Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction

Key takeaways A “weapon of mass destruction” is a Big Data or Machine Learning model that  has three distinct elements: Opacity, Scale, and Damage. In general, O’Neil argues, such models negatively impact the poor and disadvantaged whilst similarly making the lives of the well-off easier. The opacity of models makes it hard to understand or reason about what they are doing or even to detect an issue. Models trained to solve one particular problem can jump across to other fields increasing the risks from their scale. Approaches to auditing models is still an area of active academic research but some progress is being made. Government intervention, in the form of regulation, may also be required. “Big Data has plenty of evangelists, but I’m not one of them,” writes Cathy O’Neil, a…


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