The problems with Big Data...

Discussion in 'Group Discussions' started by ColumbusGuy, Sep 7, 2016.

  1. ColumbusGuy

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    Math is racist: How data is driving inequality

    In a new book, "Weapons of Math Destruction," Cathy O'Neil details all the ways that math is essentially being used for evil (my word, not hers).


    From targeted advertising and insurance to education and policing, O'Neil looks at how algorithms and big data are targeting the poor, reinforcing racism and amplifying inequality.

    These "WMDs," as she calls them, have three key features: They are opaque, scalable and unfair.

    Denied a job because of a personality test? Too bad -- the algorithm said you wouldn't be a good fit. Charged a higher rate for a loan? Well, people in your zip code tend to be riskier borrowers. Received a harsher prison sentence? Here's the thing: Your friends and family have criminal records too, so you're likely to be a repeat offender. (Spoiler: The people on the receiving end of these messages don't actually get an explanation.)

    The models O'Neil writes about all use proxies for what they're actually trying to measure. The police analyze zip codes to deploy officers, employers use credit scores to gauge responsibility, payday lenders assess grammar to determine credit worthiness. But zip codes are also a stand-in for race, credit scores for wealth, and poor grammar for immigrants.

    O'Neil, who has a PhD in mathematics from Harvard, has done stints in academia, at a hedge fund during the financial crisis and as a data scientist at a startup. It was there -- in conjunction with work she was doing with Occupy Wall Street -- that she become disillusioned by how people were using data.

    "I worried about the separation between technical models and real people, and about the moral repercussions of that separation," O'Neill writes.

    She started blogging -- at mathbabe.org -- about her frustrations, which eventually turned into "Weapons of Math Destruction."

    One of the book's most compelling sections is on "recidivism models." For years, criminal sentencing was inconsistent and biased against minorities. So some states started using recidivism models to guide sentencing. These take into account things like prior convictions, where you live, drug and alcohol use, previous police encounters, and criminal records of friends and family.

    These scores are then used to determine sentencing.

    "This is unjust," O'Neil writes. "Indeed, if a prosecutor attempted to tar a defendant by mentioning his brother's criminal record or the high crime rate in his neighborhood, a decent defense attorney would roar, 'Objection, Your Honor!'"

    But in this case, the person is unlikely to know the mix of factors that influenced his or her sentencing -- and has absolutely no recourse to contest them.

    Or consider the fact that nearly half of U.S. employers ask potential hires for their credit report, equating a good credit score with responsibility or trustworthiness.

    This "creates a dangerous poverty cycle," O'Neil writes. "If you can't get a job because of your credit record, that record will likely get worse, making it even harder to work."

    This cycle falls along racial lines, she argues, given the wealth gap between black and white households. This means African Americans have less of a cushion to fall back on and are more likely to see their credit slip.

    And yet employers see a credit report as data rich and superior to human judgment -- never questioning the assumptions that get baked in.


    In a vacuum, these models are bad enough, but O'Neil emphasizes, "they're feeding on each other." Education, job prospects, debt and incarceration are all connected, and the way big data is used makes them more inclined to stay that way.

    "Poor people are more likely to have bad credit and live in high-crime neighborhoods, surrounded by other poor people," she writes. "Once ... WMDs digest that data, it showers them with subprime loans or for-profit schools. It sends more police to arrest them and when they're convicted it sentences them to longer terms."

    In turn, a new set of WMDs uses this data to charge higher rates for mortgages, loans and insurance.

    So, you see, it's easy to be discouraged.

    And yet O'Neil is hopeful, because people are starting to pay attention. There's a growing community of lawyers, sociologists and statisticians committed to finding places where data is used for harm and figuring out how to fix it.

    She's optimistic that laws like HIPAA and the Americans with Disabilities Act will be modernized to cover and protect more of your personal data, that regulators like the CFPB and FTC will increase their monitoring, and that there will be standardized transparency requirements.

    Related: Inequality is widening, even in real estate

    And then there's the fact that these models actually have so much potential.

    Imagine if you used recidivist models to provide the at-risk inmates with counseling and job training while in prison. Or if police doubled down on foot patrols in high crime zip codes -- working to build relationships with the community instead of arresting people for minor offenses.

    You might notice there's a human element to these solutions. Because really that's the key. Algorithms can inform and illuminate and supplement our decisions and policies. But to get not-evil results, humans and data really have to work together.

    "Big Data processes codify the past," O'Neil writes. "They do not invent the future. Doing that requires moral imagination, and that's something only humans can provide."

    Math is racist: How data is driving inequality
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    This is such a good article about something that people just do not think about. All of this Data is generated and used against us without our real understanding about it and without it being in any context or without any human input. 'Big Data' is a real threat. I liked these parts:

    It is just perpetuating these negative cycles.

    Again so ridiculous. 'Your relative did this, so you get a longer sentence". You may have had nothing to do with that person for 20 years, but it is still used against you?
    Another case where your private info is used against you in society today. This is just industrial-sized stereotyping and discrimination by info driven Big Data.

    There has to be human intervention as each individual situation is different and unique and Big Data does not acknowledge this-humans are individuals and these programs determining these things must be taken with that in mind-but so often they are not and are used in a vacuum devoid of personal individual info apart from the few things used in the program.

    What do you think?
     
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  2. Jdudre

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    I think that the title is wrong it should say how racism and fear are twisting mathatmatical models to justify there own ideologies. In reality this is not new I mean come on now this is just what people do they take something that is without and negative or positive qualities and give it one. I mean in the last few paragraphs it says as much. If they took that data and used it to help instead of hurt the world would be a different place
     
  3. ColumbusGuy

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    Some of it is just wrong to apply in any form. What difference should it make in a court of law when I am facing sentencing that a guy three streets over comitted some crime when I have never seen or spoken to that guy? But guess what, in some states that does matter-the crime rate in your 'neighborhood'. that is just bullshit.

    And with the rest, it is not necessarily about it being applied in a good way or a bad way, it is about it being applied without any context to the unique individual in question. No result of a mathematical model should be applied to an individual without additional information unique to that individual also being considered. That is grouping every. single. person who may fall into groups A, B, or C as completely identical-which is ridiculous in real life terms. It is an easy, lazy, flawed, and often corrupt way to classify people,.
     
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  4. Jdudre

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    I agree with you wholeheartedly but I also don't feel comfortable with someone judging just on pure emotion or what they have been taught as the correct form of logic that can be very biased if not more bias then the numbers, for example, you or somebody else had mentioned something about black people being more violent believe it or not, I have heard this used by more than one person this logic or some other forms of it has been repeated over and over again that lot of people seem to think it's true while in fact, it's not black people are nor more violent or whatever them anybody else on earth.
    AS for the other point I'm going to play devil's advocate here for a minute. This matters because it may increase the likely hood of you becoming a repeat offender or not the people around you influence your choices and how you see yourself and other people. if all you have around you is people that are not trying to make their lives better its going to be harder for you to make your life better.
    If the system was a one where justice and rehabilitation were what they were looking for then they would use that data to find that person better counseling, resources, ect.. ect.. and they are those resources out there as someone who is trying to get their life together and going through that system I have seen then and used some of them. The biggest problem I've encountered is from two things people on both sides and outside forces. To change your life around is difficult if you do not have the right people around you and I am not talking about just social workers or the right type of programs you will fail.
    Those things are just tempory fixes to a much deep problem that many Americans have but we as a nation are so used to them that we take them for granted, misuse them and do not take the time out to understand what they can actually do for us.
     
  5. ColumbusGuy

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    ^^
    Sorry this is assuming a lot. For example, I don't know any of the people around me really, beyond saying hi and all and they have almost no influence on or in my life. Especially in this day and age when people may just live in an apartment for any number of reasons and have nothing to with the neighborhood otherwise and know none of the people near them nor associate with nor experience any influence from them.

    The people around you who are more likely to influence you are your friends, relatives. coworkers, etc-and for many people none of those people are in the same zip code. I do not have a single friend, relative, or coworker in my zip code, yet I should have the type of people who live in my zipcode influence my sentencing? Utter and complete bullshit. I avoid associating with people here and associate with people who are generally between 7 and 25 miles away from here.

    Also I never said to judge people on pure emotion, or any emotion, but to involve a number of sources of information including meta-data but also including other data and certainly data that is unique to the individual in question to determine an outcome. "additional unique information' about an individual along with meta-data...where is emotion even mentioned in that?

    Any meta-data should be accompanied by other information and include unique information about that person as an individual also- I stand wholly behind this statement.

    If you wholeheartedly agree with me, I am missing it lol.

    I will give you another example: debt. I have significant debt that has damaged my credit. But there are only two debts: student loan debt, and a hospital bill I am fighting because I should absolutely have no responsibility in paying that bill. That is it. Healthcare and education. I worked hard after my bankruptcy* in during the great financial crisis to stay out of debt which involved paying over $11,000.00 in cash for medical treatment in 2010 alone, and kept myself out of debt until the student loan debts were due(and I did use the money for what it was intended for and did graduate and all)and the mess with the hospital bill came up 3 years ago.

    Now someone else may have a credit rating/report similar to mine, but their debt may be from living beyond their means, buying consumer goods they did not need, buying expensive food and liquor that they could not afford, being very irresponsible with their money spending it on things that would not help them in any real way and would depreciate in value almost immediately. But per meta-data, we would be considered equal. There would be no context. Is that fair, right, just, or even accurate?

    * I never was able to get out from under due to the catastophic extended illness and death of my partner in 2001, the severe financial and emotional toll that took on me, my own bad decisions resulting form said state, and my own loss of job due to illness(which again took another big toll on me). Prior to that my credit rating was over 700.
    But per 'the data' all people will see is a person who had a bankruptcy before and now is in debt again and then the people will(from just that data)-make the conclusion that I am obviously a very bad person who is very irresponsible.

    if tl;dr... (for anyone)...:yeshrug:
     
    #5 ColumbusGuy, Sep 8, 2016
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2016
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  6. Jdudre

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    We actually agree but what I believe is happing is that you're taking the stance that people will only look at the meta-data and only see that. I get that in fact, that is my number one fear and concern with people. What I am trying to get across is that instead of flushing or being scared of that data we need to train people better on how to use that information to actually help people. Take me for example If you're to look at my meta-data you would think that am no good or not worth the effort in fact you could say I fit in with the second person that you describe but some people either through training or their own compassion choose to see and help me out along the way because when they see my information and talk to me they see someone who is trying to fix their life for the better and this is usually because they feel am a good person wich is true enough, though I don't always believe it .
    Here is my problem with emotions or how people seem to approach them it seems to me that we treat them like they are these things we can control and just turn off and on at will but I believe this is false not only false but very dangerous. We are feeling creatures if we do not acknowledge them properly or understand how they play a role in our lives it can lead to very bad things.
    Once again I'll use me as an example for a very long time I hid my emotions and tried not to show them when I was growing up I got hurt and hurt badly emotionally and those same emotional problems still ride me Because of this, I have driven a lot of people from my life as well as done a lot of bad things( to me)and not done a lot of things that would have made me happy all because of emotion and feelings.
    I have noticed this in other people as well and to me the only true way to live is by understanding them, having other encounters that will override the old ones and let go of the past something that is easier said then done I know.
     
  7. ColumbusGuy

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    Well the problem is it is difficult to gauge much of this with data that is gathered with out input from the person, info directly about the situation of that person. Along with all of the data, maybe actually talking to the person could be part of that process of getting that unique data on that person. Instead of the 'look at the credit report and deny the job if it is x or lower', maybe at least ask the people about the bad credit report and get that unique info and see what the circumstances are.

    Or maybe with that sentencing being influenced by where you live, maybe the judge can get, or the attorney can provide, personal info about that-whether or not that person is really associated with that envirnoment around them or are most of their connections to another area? It is more work and more time but ultimately more fair imo because otherwise it assumes a whole lot and these decisions made on this broad generalized info can make or break a person's life-especially when this general info is used in determining sentencing someone for a crime!

    I have very little in common really with the people in this area and I would be outraged if a judge used data of my area to help determine my sentence. Of course lower income areas are going to have more crime and worse data- it is really giving people tougher sentences because they are poor and do not have the ability to live in a higher income(and likely less crime ridden) neighborhood. It is classist and likely racist generalizations used in determining sentencing and is outrageous. Who even know what the parameters are? Zipcodes are often gerrymandered and I know several around here that include a few wealthy areas but are dominated by poorer areas-the unfair system is not even using good information in that case for the people living in the nicer areas-the whole thing is just utter bullshit and it should be illegal to do this in the criminal justice system. I am just dumbfounded by this.

    Yes not only do I think that people should choose or have the choice to basically get further info on someone and look at the unique situation person or some other entity-they should be trained to do this and required to do further investigation as standard procedure.

    *
    I know this well...especially after 2001. And yes I got rid of the people who were a bad influence, but by then the remaining postive people had separated themselves from me and understandably so. So I was left alone pretty much and stayed 'lonerish'-which is used against you of course. And it is very difficult trying to build back a base of positive people, expecially when you are older, gay, in a rural area, and don't have much in common with the people in your area and also don't have much in common with the 'dominant' gay community nearby. It is hard to rebuild but you can do it and you have relative youth on your side.

    If I can do this, and if I can make the decision to join a gay group that does stuff every Friday in Columbus (about 25 miles away)now that I will have Fridays off, then you can get therapy for your issues and make the effort to establish new relationships with new positive people in your area.

    If you admit you know what the problem is, then the next step(you are beyond denial and know that there is a problem and you have identified it)is to seek help in rectifying the problem(being hurt badly emotionally and carrying that damaging emotional baggage. It may not seem like it, but at 34 you have time to work on these issues. Life does not stop at 30, 35, 40, 45...etc. Life does not stop until your are dead, and until then it just keeps coming and it is better to make the best of it and get yourself in order if you can no matter what your age. JMO.

    And yes, I will be also be going back to counseling/therapy myself. I can't spout this stuff and believe in it and not apply it to myself.

    Sorry this is so damn long. SB3 is right...I just go on and on sometimes.
     
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  8. Jdudre

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    The first part is what I believe that a lot of people are trying to implement but that kinda government is going to take a while and a lot of effort but there's a lot of people out there that are working on making sure it happens and I believe it will happen. I don't mean to harp on this but it I believe a lot of people have a deep fear of technology and the unknown in general but a lot of these things can help us if we learn how to make it work and not be afraid of it.

    I am trying step by step and day by day, believe it or not, I have moved on a lot about two years ago I would not have been having this conversion with you or doing the things that I am doing now. I mean I am not where I think I should be, but I feel I'm where I am at least comfortable enough to let people in somewhat I just wish people weren't so eager. Their either way into me or all kind of aloof
     
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  9. Jdudre

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    The neighborhood thing is kinda of tricky here is my thinking in these kinds of neighborhood you have people that mind their own business and do what their meant to do some of them help to make it a better neighborhood but there are others who do the opposite these people usually go after children i.e. forming gangs and what not or people they feel are vulnerable people that have been laid off or that need help but can't get it.
    My idea is to take this meta-data and try to identify these types of neighborhoods and implement things to prevent the bad elements from spreading (possible help them) and to help the good elements keep on working and even spread out even more.
    Things like community centers, parks and hospital and even the right kind of staff and technology. I know one community that is trying to do this exact thing last year during thanksgiving me and some other students who didn't have anywhere to go got invited to this lady's house she told us about the neighborhood and what she was trying to do there what they had done there it was one building but they were trying to build others and make their place a safer area for themselves and others
     
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  10. ColumbusGuy

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    ^^kudos to you for both working on your issues and for caring enough about others to have ideas like the ones you have. Yes I do agree that the data can be used in very helpful ways as well and you have made some very valid points. Glad you are on the site and sharing your views and information.
     
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