Weapons of Math Destruction #415

March 31, 2017

This week on Science for the People we look at the modern, inventive ways we try to use math and algorithms to make better decisions, and what happens when those solutions cause more problems than they solve. We speak with Cathy O'Neil about her book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy and the increasingly opaque and unregulated algorithms that are creeping into our lives. We also talk with David Robinson, co-founder and principal of the think tank Upturn, about their report on the current use of and evidence behind Predictive Policing.


  • Cathy O'Neil
  • David Robinson

Guest Bios

Cathy O'Neil

Cathy O'Neil earned a Ph.D. in math from Harvard, was a postdoc at the MIT math department, and a professor at Barnard College where she published a number of research papers in arithmetic algebraic geometry. She then switched over to the private sector, working as a quant for the hedge fund D.E. Shaw in the middle of the credit crisis, and then for RiskMetrics, a risk software company that assesses risk for the holdings of hedge funds and banks. She left finance in 2011 and started working as a data scientist in the New York start-up scene, building models that predicted people’s purchases and clicks. She wrote Doing Data Science in 2013 and launched the Lede Program in Data Journalism at Columbia in 2014. She is the author of the book "Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy". She recently founded ORCAA, an algorithmic auditing company, and blogs at MathBabe.org.

David Robinson

David Robinson is co-founder and Principal of Upturn, a think tank in Washington DC that combines technology and policy expertise to build a more inclusive and humane digital future. David is also an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches a course on Governing Automated Decisions, and a Visiting Fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.