‘Weapons of Math Destruction’ author to speak at Edinburgh data summit

Cathy O'Neil will be among the speakers at the 2018 Data Summit
Cathy O'Neil will be among the speakers at the 2018 Data Summit
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An American author who warned big data could increase inequality and pose a threat to democracy will be a keynote speaker at an industry event in Edinburgh next month.

Cathy O’Neil, whose books include Weapons of Math Destruction, will be among the big names appearing at the 2018 Data Summit at the capital’s Assembly Rooms on March 22 and 23.

The mathematics expert has asserted that in a variety of fields - from insurance to advertising - big data and algorithms can lead to decisions that harm the poor, reinforcing racism and amplifying inequality.

“The algorithms are like shiny new toys that we can’t resist using,” she said in a 2016 Guardian interview. “We trust them so much that we project meaning on to them.”

Data Summit is a key part of the wider DataFest18, which takes place in venues across Scotland.

The conference will focus on “data warriors” - drawn from a variety of professions - by offering them the tools and leadership skills required.

Organised by The Data Lab, the Scottish Government-backed innovation centre launched in 2014, a key message will be that collaboration across sectors is key to supporting future data warriors.

By bringing different industries, expertise and data together, organisers said it would help realise “the huge potential of data”.

The return of the event marks a good year for the centre. Its annual contribution to the economy has doubled to £70 million after ramping up the number of research projects it supports.

Among the returning speakers at the Data Summit will be Dr Hannah Fry, who said “the more open and collaborative data is, the better use it will be to society”.

Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab, said: “In this second year of DataFest, we’ve pulled together a compelling programme of international speakers, all of whom are at the cutting edge of data technology across numerous industries. Their involvement within the event clearly demonstrates Scotland’s place as a key player on the global data stage.

“The Data Summit is a great opportunity for attendees to hear about others’ data experiences through sessions on how to lead successful programmes.”