|By Tony Bartelme, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"God, please don't let me hurt someone," he prayed.
Dizzy again. These bouts of vertigo were barely noticeable at first, but something else was going on now. At night, he would lie in his bed, stare at the ceiling and watch everything twirl. In the morning, the spells came in waves during his commute to
Colossus was part of a quiet revolution in the insurance industry.
Before the early 1990s, insurance was a decidedly human endeavor, especially when it came to setting rates and paying claims. To set premiums, insurers relied on computations from their actuaries -- mathematical wizards armed with statistics and tables that assess various risks. When it came to paying claims, insurers often sent adjusters into the field, where they met face-to-face with people injured in car wrecks.
Today, insurers have an array of computer programs that guide the flow of trillions of dollars to and from customers around the world. These programs include sophisticated "catastrophe models" that use weather data and other factors to predict an insurance company's losses in a disaster. "Scoring models" use credit histories and secret algorithms to estimate which customers are more likely to file claims. Colossus and similar programs help companies manage claims. Like a TurboTax program for medical injuries, adjusters plug in information about a person's loss -- from a damaged spine to a fractured finger. Colossus then cranks out a range of payments to cover the costs. Insurance industry critics and even many insiders call these programs "black boxes" because their formulas, data sets and operational policies are cloaked in secrecy.
Few people at Allstate knew more about Colossus than Romano. On organizational charts, he was
Romano has thick black hair and wears thin glasses. His brown eyes widen when he wants to make a point. He had gone into the business to help people, but he knew that his work on Colossus would do the opposite.
During his hourlong commute to
Birth of Colossus
Among computer programmers, the name Colossus has a rich history. In