Books

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

It became famous and somewhat controversial as NYT praised it up. I read the first two chapters of the book and put it aside. I am already intensively studying about so-called “WMDs”, machine learning. It was, for me, like a summary of my field. I could agree that recently AI changed and is changing the world pretty drastically, which means there arise lots of pros and cons in our daily life. This book only cast light on the worst kind of problems and I did not like it much.

To attend my discussion study, I did a search and found Cathy O’Neil‘s talks. I watched “Talks at Google”, the audiences of which are Google employees – mostly software engineers. It contains roughly 30 minutes of her speech and another 30 minutes of Q&A. At the beginning of the speech, she mentions the review of the public that ‘it’s too negative’. She comments herself on it, “if you’re wondering why I’m so negative in my book, (…), I do want to make it very clear to the public – and this book is written to the public – that some of the times, this stuff is really fucked up.” I recommend watching the talks instead of the original book if you feel like me. Although the Talks at Google are for engineers, it does not contain too professional context.

As she summarized her speech, I also think the machine learning(or WMDs) is just a tool, not a silver bullet. I would rather consider it as a catalyst which sometimes helps to reveal the flaws and the irrationality of the existing social system. Our judicial system is imperfect and won’t be perfect. The evidence can be fabricated by a few smart experts and the testimony can be manipulated.

Which model should the government have and keep updating? For the private sector, one can say it is the stockholder’s business, not ours. As long as a smart government does a great job with antitrust regulation and guarantees free competition in the market, consumers can choose the model among various models at their own preferences, it may not be problematic. However, for the public sector, it can’t be a solution. It is clearly undesirable to have multiple militaries or various court at the time to give each citizen a choice. Are there going to be an election for the model, or its director, so-called politician? Are we already doing it, but not widely recognizing it?