How mathematics can fight the abuse of big data algorithms

Prof Alan Champneys,  Professor of Applied Non-linear Mathematics, University of Bristol

Prof Alan Champneys, Professor of Applied Non-linear Mathematics, University of Bristol

“Is maths creating an unfair society?” That seems to be the question on many people’s lips. The rise of big data and the use of algorithms by organisations has left many blaming mathematics for modern society’s ills – refusing people cheap insurance, giving false credit ratings, or even deciding who to interview for a job.

We have been here before. Following the banking crisis of 2008, some argued that it was a mathematical formula that felled Wall Street. The theory goes that the same model that was used to price sub-prime mortgages was used for years to price life assurance policies. Once it was established that dying soon after a loved one (yes, of a broken heart) was a statistical probability, a formula was developed to work out what the increased risk levels were.

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Delivering the ‘Future City’: engaging or persuading?

This blog is written by Caroline Bird, Future Cities and Communities Knowledge Exchange Manager at the Cabot Institute.

This blog is written by Caroline Bird, Future Cities and Communities Knowledge Exchange Manager at the Cabot Institute.

This article is part of a series of ‘future cities’ posts, originally published towards the end of 2015 by the Cabot Institute.

In Bristol’s European Green Capital year, the University of Bristol and its Cabot Institute worked with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership and its members to convene a series of four conversations between Bristol academics and city ‘thinkers’ from across public, private and civil society exploring how Bristol delivers the ‘future city’ –  what capacities it needs to be resilient, sustainable and successful and how it can start to develop these in times of changing governance and tightened finances. 

In this third conversation we considered how the range of civil society in the city is or could be effectively engaged in the future of the city. Our earlier debates (on governance and austerity) have suggested that a limited range of the spectrum of thought in the city is really engaged in shaping the future so how can engagement be widened in a way that brings people in because they want to be involved. But first, are we asking the right question in seeking new forms of engagement when maybe we don’t sufficiently value what is already happening? After all, isn’t everyone engaged in some way? What would be different in Bristol if the contribution of every individual, group and community was celebrated, connected and valued? If they felt they had both a stake and a role and were already part of delivering a better future? Would there be different questions asked, or different projects, processes and policies designed for the future?

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