Weapons of Math Destruction
How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
Speaker: Cathy O'Neil, Mathbabe.org.
Date: 06 nov 2020, 11h Brasilia Time (09h EST).
Place: Google meet at meet.google.com/ncp-sfun-zzg.
Abstract: 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, often, the opposite is true. Many models 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.” Such “weapons of math destruction” score teachers and students, sort résumés, grant (or deny) loans, evaluate workers, target voters, set parole, and monitor our health. Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.
In this talk based on her award winning book, Cathy 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.
Cathy O'Neil (Ph.D. Harvard 1999) is a mathematician turned quant data scientist. While working as a hedge fund analyst and later in the design of targeted ads, she realized the dangers of algorithmic bias. In 2011, she started the blog "Mathbabe", whose subjects span Math, Women in Math, Science Education, Data Science, Travel, and Cyborg Sex, among others. In 2016, she published the book "Weapons of Math Destruction", winner of the MAA's Euler Book Prize. More recently, you might have seen her in the documentary "The Social Dilemma".