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Ep. 036: Weapons of Math Destruction with Cathy O’Neil

"Weapons of Math Destruction" author Cathy O'Neil explains how algorithms dictate so much of our day-to-day lives.

Articles by Jill Schlesinger

By Jill Schlesinger, CFP®
  |  Published: September 7, 2017

This week on the Better Off podcast, we have yet another example of my geekiness.

I love math and statistics, but I am nothing compared to the brilliant Cathy O’Neil. I have been a fan girl of Cathy’s since discovering her blog, mathbabe.org and then hearing her on the Slate Money podcast. Cathy, whose New York Times bestselling book “Weapons of Math Destruction” is now out in paperback, is the ultimate math geek, but more importantly, she is one of the most thoughtful intellectuals that I have encountered.

Cathy’s resume is impressive: a Ph.D. in math from Harvard, a postdoc at the MIT math department, a professor at Barnard College, where she published a number of research papers in arithmetic algebraic geometry and then a short-lived stint on Wall Street, before she launched her consulting firm, ORCAA.

When I heard Cathy explain complicated topics and then read the hardcover edition of the book last year, I knew we had to have her on the pod. It’s such a fascinating read about how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy. From how teachers are graded to how policing strategies are developed to credit scores and health insurance, it’s going to blow your mind when you hear how algorithms (mathematical models), dictate so much of our day-to-day lives.

But what happens when these models are out of whack—opaque, unregulated and incontestable? Unfortunately, the already unlucky and struggling among us, get the short end of the stick. What can individuals do about these unproven mathematical equations? As you’ll hear Cathy explain, it starts by asking some basic questions.

I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did. It’s by far one of my favorites…so much so that there’s no call this week, just the interview.

If you want to join me in the responsible math club, I suggest you follow Cathy on Twitter and also check out her TED Talk.

This article was originally published on Jill Schlesinger’s LinkedIn.

The opinions stated on the Better Off podcast are those of the host, Jill Schlesinger, and her guests, and not those of Betterment or its employees. Any third party links provided are offered as a matter of convenience and are not intended to imply that Betterment endorses, or is affiliated with the owners of or any information contained on those sites, unless expressly stated otherwise. Listen to a preview and subscribe to “Better Off” here.

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