Cat Cai

Weapons of Math Destruction and Introspection

I recently finished Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil for my AI, Ethics, and Society class. The book can be boiled down to this: AI algorithms just amplify the current biases of our society, and surprise… they totally screw over minorities and the poor

O’Neil is a former quant and data scientist, but the book doesn’t go heavy into any math or AI implementation details. Instead, she paints in broad strokes how the algorithms being deployed in society for facial recognition and social media are deeply problematic, and then paints a depressing picture about how these algorithms could be deployed in insurance or loan approval situations in making the poor poorer.

Her personal experiences in hedge funds and startups brought up ethical dilemmas that I constantly worry about. Is my line of work doing any good for the world (say, helping deal with climate change)? Am I contributing something that’s net positive to BIPOC or LGBTQIA+ people or just further perpetuating the systems and structures that keep the oppressed down?

I struggle with what role I should be playing in my position. Should I leave startups altogether and put my technical skills to use in an industry that needs it? Or should I stay the course and use my awareness and voice to try and steer the companies I’m apart of into the right direction?

Either way, the book is well worth a read. It is especially relevant given our current political backdrop, where tech and said algorithms played a role in the deeply divisive political discourse in the US and the election of Donald Trump.