Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

Whether we like it or not, we live in a modern age where most things are controlled in some way or another, by an algorithm, formula, or mysterious black maths box of doom, according to the author. This is known as the age of ‘Big Data’ and – again, according to the author – if left uncontrolled, these mysterious algorithms are going to take over the world.

Whether it is the version of the internet we look at, our Facebook feeds, our applications for car insurance, all of this information gets fed to us through some sort of mediation.There is an underlying mechanism which is often highly secretive and proprietary, and frequently defies rational explanation by even those who are responsible for its operation. We are being sold on the idea that this is the way of the future, that by applying these number crunchers to our daily lives, a fairer outcome for everyone is achieved.

But there is a dark side to any modern solution to a problem we didn’t know we had, and that is where the book’s main focus comes in.

O’Neil looks at a number of case studies where either individuals, or groups as a whole have been disadvantaged through the overuse of these big data tools, or Weapons of Math Destruction as she has conveniently labelled them. It is certainly easier to understand where the danger lies when put in real world contexts, and the author does a good job of leading even the novice reader through the mystery and technology, to make it more palatable.

Weapons of Math Destruction provides some interesting food for thought, although it tends towards the overly melodramatic. Like most books on this topic I have read, it falls into one of two camps – either being totally gungho about the use and possibilities of big data; or being totally against it. Although the author does offer some grudging acknowledgements of the possibilities that technology offers, it distinctly falls into the latter of those two camps.

An extremely readable book that provides a slightly terrifying view into the world of Big Data and how it can, and does, affect our daily lives.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review the book.

4 stars.

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil

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