A mathematician and former hedge fund analyst who looks at the “dark side” of data collection and use will speak at Ithaca College on Thursday, April 20. Cathy O’Neil will present “Weapons of Math Destruction” — which is also the title of her latest book — at 7:30 p.m. in Textor 101. Her talk is free and open to the public.
O’Neil’s presentation will expose the mathematical models that shape our future, both as individuals and as a society. This “big data” scores teachers and students, sorts résumés, grants (or denies) loans, evaluates workers, targets voters, sets parole and monitors our health.
O’Neil earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard and taught at Barnard College before moving to the private sector, where she worked for the hedge fund D.E. Shaw and as a data scientist at various startups, building models that predict people’s purchases and clicks.
After becoming disillusioned with the work she was doing in the world of finance, O’Neil wrote the book “Doing Data Science” in 2013 and launched the Lede Program in Data Journalism at Columbia in 2014. She appears weekly on the Slate Money podcast and blogs at her website, mathbabe.org.
Published last year, “Weapons of Math Destruction” was a semifinalist for the National Book Award and a New York Times best-seller. In it, she points out that the decisions that affect our lives are increasingly being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. While in theory this should lead to greater fairness — everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated — the reality is that these models are opaque, unregulated and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong.
O’Neil’s talk is sponsored by the C.P. Snow Lecture Series, named for the British physicist and novelist Sir Charles Percy Snow in recognition of his efforts to bridge the gap between what he called the “two cultures” of the liberal arts and the sciences. Founded in 1964, it is the longest-running lecture series at Ithaca College.
For more information, visit www.ithaca.edu/cpsnow.