By Daniel Lee
Don’t expect a joint statement of solidarity, but conservatives balking at a social science-driven administrative state and liberals flailing against Big Data on privacy and civil rights grounds may be approaching a Stanley and Livingstone moment, arriving at the same clearing in the ideological jungle from opposite directions.
It hasn’t been too many years ago that Big Data was being hailed in such progressive publications as The Atlantic as an important weapon against a number of social ills: poverty, gun crime, education, medical care. But now a dark side is emerging, according to former Wall Street analyst turned Occupy activist Cathy O’Neil’s book, Weapons of Math Destruction, How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy.
O’Neil has a Harvard Ph.D. in mathematics, worked for the hedge fund D.E. Shaw, created predictive models for various startups, and authors the blog Mathbabe.org. In the book, she writes about how algorithms conjured from Internet surfing patterns, purchases, ZIP codes, accident reports, the whole universe of data we constantly generate, are used against us.
Per the title, O’Neil calls these algorithm-based systems—to which we have almost no access (hence she refers to them as “black box” algorithms)—weapons of math destruction, or WMDs
From Remedy to Ruin