Is mathematics a force for accountability? Or is it a shield against accountability?
Our lives are increasingly governed by algorithms that influence what to buy, where to go, who to date, and sometimes even how we vote. Corporations and governments collect data about us and use it to analyze our personalities, our social ties, and our beliefs. Are the decisions made by these analyses fair? How much control do we have over the assumptions that algorithms make about us? Who creates and controls these algorithms, and how accountable are they to those of us on the receiving end?
I recently gave a talk to the Undergraduate Math Union at the University of Toronto to explore one instance of a mathematical algorithm used in Wall Street that enabled the 2008 Financial Crisis. It was manipulated by the "auditors of the financial system" to make over-optimistic predictions about the economy, helping large investment banks sell toxic investment products all over the world. The implosion of those toxic products sparked the Financial Crisis.