Thursday, December 22, 2016

Weapons of Math Destruction

In WEAPONS OF MATH DESTRUCTION by Cathy O’Neil you’ll learn some surprising things about the algorithms that now rule our society, as an expansion of the subject matter revealed in such books as The Filter Bubble, Utopia is Creepy, and Future Crimes. This book is unique in that it focuses on how statistics are utilized by mass marketers, politicians, and media giants to extract as much advantage as they can in order to, as they say on Shark Tank, “eviscerate the competition.” For example, credit scores are utilized in hiring practices in 40 states, and so if you made the “mistake” of being laid off and then applied for a loan in which you missed a payment, you may not be hired over someone who wasn’t laid off (for whatever reason.) If you clicked on an ad for a college loan you may be swamped with calls from loan sharks looking to collect high interest rates…get one of those, and algorithms will spot this too. It will appear on records you have no access to, although future employers or loan officers might. If you don’t know the proper ways to word a resume, it might never get viewed since algorithms pre-screen the first round, in search of certain keywords relevant to job openings. You name, race, sex, and even the typeface used can affect your odds before a human ever sees your application or resume. Shoppers who log in to online stores may not get the same deals as those who don’t log in. (Why offer deals to repeat customers?) Google, Amazon, Facebook…they all track you, and know when and where to hit you with ads based on your personal buying patterns, beliefs, and social status. These “WMDs” are like bombs targeting you in their laser sights. They know who you are, and where you live. Zip codes are also utilized, and can keep poor people from getting out of poverty by victimizing them with high interest rates or preventing them from obtaining a job. All this ends up costing more in government assistance, and, once taken, locks some into a death spiral of debt and discrimination. What can you do? Start by listening to this audiobook, which is long listed for a National Book Award, and is ably narrated by the author. 

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