Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequity and Threatens Democracy author Cathy O’Neil look at the relationship between big data and the political systems of various countries. Specifically, she focuses on what happened to New Orleans following the hurricane, and what the potential impacts might be. The book examines what might happen if massive amounts of incorrect or false information were allowed to remain in the public domain. While providing an important understanding of how algorithms might create a bias, it also shows how simple mistakes can lead to larger-scale misinformation.
weapons of math destruction: how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy is a concise overview of how algorithms and big data are reshaping our political systems today. Rather than waiting for power to be re-distributive, algorithms can be used to keep tabs on election results, limiting political influence and regulating civic organizations. O’ Neil makes the case that relying on these tools has led to a rapid rise in the number of extreme right-wing movements, and more conservative policies throughout the U.S., all of which adds to a growing inequality and threatens the possibility of instability. Although she acknowledges that political power can sometimes be restored, she contends that the threat is too great to ignore. Furthermore, she argues that relying on these tools could lead to even greater instability.
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequity and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil is a thorough outline of how algorithms and big data can threaten democratic institutions. Starting with the New Orleans disaster, she delves into how the disaster was caused by a predictable set of circumstances. Despite initial government assurances, no one could foresee the catastrophic flooding that destroyed the levee and other surrounding areas. As the water continued to rise, it exposed highly populated areas to rising water and thus generated a dangerous, life-threatening scenario. Rather than allowing this to happen, however, a new data scientist, mathematician and software engineer sat down and created a computer model to predict the path of rising water, allowing authorities to stop the disaster before it reached too catastrophic a level.
However, this kind of foresight is a relatively new invention. Rather than relying on mathematical models to make such assessments, O’ Neil suggests, these weapons of math destruction can be employed as a preemptive strike. These algorithms can take the previous census data and create a more accurate likelihood of who will be displaced or harmed by various environmental circumstances. By using this information, infrastructure developers can create better roadways and bridges, giving people easy access to safer neighborhoods and reducing the risk of environmental damage or environmental disasters in the first place.
One might think that a technology as revolutionary as the application of mathematical formulas by humans cannot be controlled by regular folks. After all, without these advanced calculations and equations, how would the average citizen even know how much he or she is losing in terms of productivity? Fortunately, the answer is “not much”. A computer scientist, using such advanced methods as the ones outlined in his new book,” Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Equality and Threatens Democracy”, created a “growth model” that explained how people could use the government’s growth model to their advantage. The outcome is both obvious and frightening: the continued growth of G.D.O. programs by governmental agencies while fewer individuals have jobs.
In the review of weapons of math destruction, O’ Neil explains that such exponential growth is not only unproductive; it is also dangerous. As Albert Einstein once said, “Machines are a blessing, but for the destruction of mankind there is no happiness”. We are already seeing the consequences of unchecked, unfettered use of G.D.O. tools. As with other areas of our society, those who benefit the most from these tools are those who have access to and use them. Because of this, many government agencies are stifling creativity and innovation by focusing instead on mathematical solutions.
While the review of weapons of math destruction covers a broad spectrum of topics, its introduction and examination of the threat posed by unbridled growth of data analytics poses a disturbing fact. Our current federal government model and policies are based on the premise that federal agencies are charged with the responsibility to collect and distribute accurate and up-to-date information in order to better serve the American people. However, in the review of weapons of math destruction, it becomes clear that such collection and distribution of data could prove to be disastrous. It highlights the fact that such data must be protected at all costs.
One such weapon of math destruction is what is called a “toxic cocktail”. A toxic cocktail is anything that sparks fear or anger in a group. For example, if a federal agency was to start requiring students to perform a federal census when they first sign up, it could ignite a number of problems. Since most students are taught and trained to ignore the requirement for the census, it would fail to enforce the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which requires consumers to disclose their personal information to the credit bureaus if they are denied credit, insurance, or employment. A comprehensive review of weapons of math destruction such as a toxic cocktail will not only highlight existing threats but also help agencies understand how they can go about rectifying these imbalances to promote greater equality and decrease disparity in societal outcomes.