Weapons of Math Destruction


From criminal justice to consumer credit to the job market and beyond, opaque computer systems make life altering decisions every day.

The White House has recognized that these new systems pose a risk to civil rights and has identified key challenges: How can we harness data in a way that improves society without reinforcing the histories of bias and discrimination that are often reflected in such data? What’s the right way to measure the impact of algorithms that are increasingly shaping our behavior and decisions, and that we don’t fully understand?

In her new book, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, data scientist and activist Cathy O’Neil shows how statistical models can bring an imprimatur of objectivity to decisions that often remain all too human.

In conversation with David Robinson, Cathy will describe the challenges introduced by these “weapons of math destruction” and what we can do to address them. A panel of experts will then respond, offering a range of perspectives on Cathy’s book and the issues it raises.


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. She worked as a quant on Wall Street, and at data-driven startups. She now blogs at mathbabe.org.

David Robinson is co-founder and principal at Upturn, a team of technologists working to give people a meaningful voice in how technology shapes their lives. David leads the firm's work on automated decisions in the criminal justice system.

Rachel Levinson-Waldman is senior counsel to the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. She is an expert on surveillance technology and national security issues, and a frequent commentator on the intersection of policing, technology and civil rights.

Daniel Castro is vice president at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and director of ITIF's Center for Data Innovation. He was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to the Commerce Data Advisory Council.

K. Sabeel Rahman is an assistant professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, a Eric and Wendy Schmidt fellow at New America, and a Four Freedoms fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He is the author of Democracy Against Domination (Oxford University Press 2017), and studies the history, values, and policy strategies that animate efforts to make our society more inclusive and democratic, and our economy more equitable.