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

This week on the Better Off podcast it’s 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.

“Better Off” is sponsored by Betterment.

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