Saturday, August 26, 2017

Cathy O’Neil — “Algorithms Are Opinions Embedded in Code”

Algorithms are opinions embedded in code. It’s really different from what you think most people think of algorithms. They think algorithms are objective and true and scientific. That’s a marketing trick. It’s also a marketing trick to intimidate you with algorithms, to make you trust and fear algorithms because you trust and fear mathematics. A lot can go wrong when we put blind faith in big data.
Naked Capitalism
Data Scientist Cathy O’Neil: “Algorithms Are Opinions Embedded in Code”
Cathy O'Neil (aka mathbabe)

Compare with

An Interview with James Buchanan From the Austrian Economics Newsletter, Fall 1987
AEN: People have often labeled your work “normative.” Could you give us your thoughts on striking the balance between truth-seeking and advocacy?
Buchanan: I have never been especially concerned about making a sharp dividing line between what is positive and what is normative. I don’t consider myself a scientist whose task is discovering a reality that somehow exists independently of me. The model of hard sciences is not at all appropriate for economics. There is an important distinction to be made between taking an ideological position and then trying to make arguments to support that position, and on the other hand, working out the consequences of ideas and coming to an ideological position.
People do sometimes interpret my work as always being in defense of liberty. But it is less a preconceived notion and more a result of my methodology. It’s analogous to an artists that only knows and uses red paint. You should not be surprised when his paintings come out in various shades of red. Methodological individualism characterizes everything that I’ve done because I simply don’t know how to proceed with anything else, as if I only had red paint. Another artist might consciously decide to create a red painting so he goes out and buys red paint. But that is an entirely different approach.
Compare also

Thomas Aquinas in De Ente et essentia, 1
A small mistake in the beginning is a big one in the end, according to the Philosopher in the first book of On the Heavens and the Earth....
Compare Alfred Marshall
Balliol Croft, Cambridge27. ii. 06
My dear Bowley …
I had a growing feeling in the later years of my work at the subject that a good mathematical theorem dealing with economic hypotheses was very unlikely to be good economics: and I went more and more on the rules — (1) Use mathematics as a short-hand language, rather than as an engine of inquiry. (2) Keep to them till you have done. (3) Translate into English. (4) Then illustrate by examples that are important in real life. (5) Burn the mathematics. (6) If you can’t succeed in 4, burn 3. This last I did often ….
Your emptyhandedly,Alfred Marshall
Math is a tool that can be used in many ways for different purposes. In the hands of those who use the tool to manipulate and control others, math is much like Latin in the hands of a priesthood.

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