Books: Weapons of Math Destruction

On this blog, we usually focus on what we can do on a daily and personal basis to improve our overall quality of life and financial well being, using the culture of Old Money as a guide.

Every once in a while, I feel it necessary to address things outside our own sphere of influence that impact our financial well being.

Cathy O’Neil’s book ‘Weapons of Math Destruction‘ tackles an often opaque and confusing realm referred to as Big Data. Nevertheless, it is an accessible and captivating read. Specifically, she discusses the algorithm. Just what it is and how it affects our daily lives comes into sharp–and sometimes quite disconcerting–focus.

Kathy is a data scientist and mathematician, but her prose is clear and compelling. She discusses her experience and research into the computer programs (for lack of a better term) that directly impact how much we pay for health insurance, if we get a loan or a job, how our public officials respond to issues, and so many other things.

These algorithms are at present unregulated and incontestable. Despite the assumption that ‘if a machine does it, it’s more fair than if a person does it’, these arbiters of so much of our financial possibilities are far from accurate or just.

It’s a little off the beaten path for us, theme-wise, but I think it’s a worthwhile read. I’m inherently suspicious of technology. It’s convenient, but it quickly becomes presumptive, acting like it knows what I want better than I do. This book does nothing to dispel my distrust.

If you have time, take a read. If you’ve already read the book, I’d love to hear comments. Thanks.

  • BGT



9 thoughts on “Books: Weapons of Math Destruction

  1. Great recommendation, Byron! Just this week I watched a WSJ video interview with John L. Hennessy – the chairman of Alphabet and also the former President of Stanford. He specifically mentioned the importance of understanding the power of algorithms and their impact on society. I get this point because I work in technology… but I’m ordering this book for my daughter who is trying to decide whether she should learn to program with Python.

    I also want to take this opportunity to thank you for writing your books and maintaining this blog – I can’t tell you how much your insights help me make sense of where I’ve arrived in life and how to frame up daily decisions!

  2. Brutal, naked, honest realty. Appreciate that Cathy wrote this book and disclosed the reality people do not/cannot see and realize. I like the new verb, although it has very sad connotation. This is one of the reasons I hate Math – one can twist numbers and algorithms against another one – so it truly is a weapon of mass destruction – quite, slow and ruthless. Less well-read or less experienced people will not object numbers because they look official and scientific – therefore they think in must be truth. However the reality is different and is often used against those more vulnerable. Said.
    There is an interesting brochure called: MODERN MONEY MECHANICS A Workbook on Bank Reserves and Deposit Expansion by Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Very useful reading how simple math is used.

  3. Mr. Tully,
    If I might ask, what magazines or periodicals do you (and your readers) recommend and read regularly?
    Lately, I have been enjoying Foreign Affairs, The American Interest, and The Economist.
    As I don’t see reading materials out and about (now that so much is online), I rarely happen across a new periodical of interest. Any suggestions?
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Rachel, You’ve got a great list started, and I encourage everyone to chip in on this subject. You might take a look at La Monde Diplomatique in English. When I was in the US, I subscribed to the Guardian Weekly (print version) as a way to catch up on the news and reduce the amount of time I spent looking at a computer screen. The Times and the Telegraph are good reads as well to give you a perspective from across the pond. The New Yorker and New York Magazine can be a breath of fresh air for reading on the arts and literary scene. If you want to pick up a new language, buy a magazine in that language and translate the article as you read. It’s like eating rocks (trust me…I’ve tried it in French) but you will learn the language that way. – BGT

      1. Mr. Tully,
        Thank you for your recommendations! I look forward to revisiting some of these and discovering some for the first time. Thank you for your kind time and attention,

  4. On this subject, I’ve bought The Master Algorithm a few months ago, after reading a 2016 recommendation by Bill Gates. Still haven’t read it though, as I have other titles on my reading list first. Quite annoying. If I could make one wish, it would be to be the world’s fastest reader and be able to memorise all of it…

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