Algorithms are everywhere in our lives. And while I can appreciate the way they can make life easier, they’ve also always made me somewhat uncomfortable. Not just in the “invasion of privacy” way either, although that is certainly a concern. In her book Weapons of Math Destruction, data scientist Cathy O’Neil (aka the Math Babe) has done a great job of exploring why.
Using her professional experience and knowledge of mathematics, O’Neil details what makes certain algorithms destructive. It’s these that she deems “Weapons of Math Destruction” or WMDs (see what she did there). She explains how we build our own biases into the algorithms, even while we’re unaware we’re doing it. She explains the lack of transparency that means we’re rarely aware that this bias exists. And by not providing these algorithms any results, they are never able to correct themselves.
Weapons of Math Destruction was a fascinating read, and explains the issues around the way we use algorithms in an easily accessible way. But I did really get tired of seeing her use the term “WMD” all over the place. It was distracting and took me out of her writing several times throughout the book.
The overuse of acronym aside, this was a very approachable book about something we all live with but rarely think about. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in technology, big data, and the consequences of our dependency on it.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of Weapons of Math Destruction from BloggingForBooks.com.