Synopses & Reviews
Longlisted for the National Book Award
New York Times Bestseller
A former Wall Street quant sounds an alarm on the mathematical models that pervade modern life -- and threaten to rip apart our social fabric
We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives--where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance--are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated.
But as Cathy O'Neil reveals in this urgent and necessary book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they're wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination: If a poor student can't get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his zip code), he's then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a "toxic cocktail for democracy." Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.
Tracing the arc of a person's life, O'Neil exposes the black box models that shape our future, both as individuals and as a society. These "weapons of math destruction" score teachers and students, sort resumes, grant (or deny) loans, evaluate workers, target voters, set parole, and monitor our health.
O'Neil calls on modelers to take more responsibility for their algorithms and on policy makers to regulate their use. But in the end, it's up to us to become more savvy about the models that govern our lives. This important book empowers us to ask the tough questions, uncover the truth, and demand change.
-- Longlist for National Book Award (Non-Fiction)
-- Goodreads, semi-finalist for the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards (Science and Technology)
-- Kirkus, Best Books of 2016
-- New York Times, 100 Notable Books of 2016 (Non-Fiction)
-- The Guardian, Best Books of 2016
-- WBUR's "On Point," Best Books of 2016: Staff Picks
-- Boston Globe, Best Books of 2016, Non-Fiction
“This is a manual for the 21st-century citizen, and it succeeds where other big data accounts have failed—it is accessible, refreshingly critical and feels relevant and urgent.” Financial Times
“Weapons of Math Destruction is the Big Data story Silicon Valley proponents won’t tell…. [It] pithily exposes flaws in how information is used to assess everything from creditworthiness to policing tactics…. a thought-provoking read for anyone inclined to believe that data doesn’t lie.” Reuters
“O’Neil’s book offers a frightening look at how algorithms are increasingly regulating people… Her knowledge of the power and risks of mathematical models, coupled with a gift for analogy, makes her one of the most valuable observers of the continuing weaponization of big data… [She] does a masterly job explaining the pervasiveness and risks of the algorithms that regulate our lives.” New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Cathy O’Neil is a data scientist and author of the blog mathbabe.org. She earned a Ph.D. 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 then worked as a data scientist at various start-ups, building models that predict people’s purchases and clicks. O’Neil started the Lede Program in Data Journalism at Columbia and is the author of Doing Data Science. She is currently a columnist for Bloomberg View.