Weapons of Math Destruction
|Subject||Mathematics, race, ethnicity|
|Awards||Euler Book Prize|
Weapons of Math Destruction is a 2016 American book about the societal impact of algorithms, written by Cathy O'Neil. It explores how some big data algorithms are increasingly used in ways that reinforce preexisting inequality. It was longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction, and won the Euler Book Prize.
O'Neil, a mathematician, analyses how the use of big data and algorithms in a variety of fields, including insurance, advertising, education, and policing, can lead to decisions that harm the poor, reinforce racism, and amplify inequality. According to National Book Foundation:
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.”
She posits that these problematic mathematical tools share three key features: they are opaque, unregulated and difficult to contest, and at the same time scalable, thereby amplifying any inherent biases to affect increasingly larger populations.
The book received widespread praise for elucidating the consequences of reliance on big data models for structuring socioeconomic resources. Clay Shirky from The New York Times Book Review said "O’Neil does a masterly job explaining the pervasiveness and risks of the algorithms that regulate our lives," while pointing out that "the section on solutions is weaker than the illustration of the problem.". Kirkus Reviews praised the book for being "an unusually lucid and readable" discussion of a technical subject.
- 2016 National Book Award Longlist, Nonfiction, National Book Foundation
- "The National Book Awards Longlist: Nonfiction", The New Yorker, September 14, 2016
- Rawlins, Aimee (September 6, 2016), Math is racist: How data is driving inequality, CNN
- Shirky, Clay (October 3, 2016), "Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy", The New York Times Book Review
- "Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy", Kirkus Reviews, July 19, 2016
- "Euler Book Prize" (PDF), Prizes and Awards, Joint Mathematics Meetings, pp. 3–4, January 2019, retrieved 2019-07-20 – via American Mathematical Society