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Mathematician warns against weapons of 'math' destruction

Companies and customers don't spend much time thinking about the negative side effects of data science, but they may want to start. In her new book, Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O'Neil explains that just because an algorithm exists, it doesn't mean it's a good algorithm. Many of the algorithms that control our lives are flawed and need to be debugged, like any software. O'Neil, a data scientist, isn't talking about the algorithms that are designed to trick people, such as the Volkswagen emissions algorithm. Instead, she's talking about algorithms that may lead businesses and governments to draw erroneous, biased and even harmful conclusions about customers and constituents. O'Neil, who will be speaking at the upcoming Real Business Intelligence Conference in Cambridge, Mass., sat down with SearchCIO to talk about why algorithms go bad. This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.