Weapons of Math Destruction

Weapons of Math Destruction: How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy

by Cathy O’Neil, Ph.D   (in math)

Good book, cheesy title.

 

One of the things I like to remind people, professional sports uses data to make choices in hiring. And they fail often. They have data on how fast, how far, how strong, we have video of the players performing the very job that we want them to do. And still, we get Darko getting picked above Wade or Bosh. We get  Richard Sherman being picked in the fifth round, Tom Brady getting picked in the sixth round.  O’Neil doesn’t mention this, but does talk about how companies will use proxy data to make predictions, such as “Do you have good credit?” for employee applications, or “Are you a good student?” for insurance rates.

She talks about feedback loops, such as sending more cops to “high crime areas”, where, they find more criminal activity, and thus need to send more cops. And often the crimes are minor, such as public drunkenness, or jaywalking. She asks, what if we had a “zero-tolerance strategy in finance. They would arrest people for even the slightest infraction, whether it was chiseling investors on 401ks, providing misleading guidance, or committing petty frauds. Perhaps SWAT teams would descend on Greenwich, Connecticut. They would go undercover in the taverns around Chicago’s Mercantile Exchange.”  (I recently heard, “in poor neighborhoods kids are getting arrested for marijuana and underage drinking, things that happen every Friday night in a frat.”)

I learned of the “Flutie effect”. Exciting football game, Flutie makes a great pass to win, more attention to the school, more applicants, leads to lower acceptance rate, which leads to more prestige, which raises ratings of the school as “better”.

 

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2 Responses to “Weapons of Math Destruction”

  1. heathercim Says:

    I feel like the Flutie effect occurred at Gonzaga. So many more people want to go there now after the basketball team achieved more success.

    • :-jon Says:

      It kinda works, more applications, in theory can get better students, and better students make a better school, right?

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