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Welfare and Distributional Impacts of Fair Classification

arXiv.org Machine Learning

Current methodologies in machine learning analyze the effects of various statistical parity notions of fairness primarily in light of their impacts on predictive accuracy and vendor utility loss. In this paper, we propose a new framework for interpreting the effects of fairness criteria by converting the constrained loss minimization problem into a social welfare maximization problem. This translation moves a classifier and its output into utility space where individuals, groups, and society at-large experience different welfare changes due to classification assignments. Under this characterization, predictions and fairness constraints are seen as shaping societal welfare and distribution and revealing individuals' implied welfare weights in society--weights that may then be interpreted through a fairness lens. The social welfare formulation of the fairness problem brings to the fore concerns of distributive justice that have always had a central albeit more implicit role in standard algorithmic fairness approaches.


Fairness Behind a Veil of Ignorance: A Welfare Analysis for Automated Decision Making

Neural Information Processing Systems

We draw attention to an important, yet largely overlooked aspect of evaluating fairness for automated decision making systems---namely risk and welfare considerations. Our proposed family of measures corresponds to the long-established formulations of cardinal social welfare in economics, and is justified by the Rawlsian conception of fairness behind a veil of ignorance. The convex formulation of our welfare-based measures of fairness allows us to integrate them as a constraint into any convex loss minimization pipeline. Our empirical analysis reveals interesting trade-offs between our proposal and (a) prediction accuracy, (b) group discrimination, and (c) Dwork et al's notion of individual fairness. Furthermore and perhaps most importantly, our work provides both heuristic justification and empirical evidence suggesting that a lower-bound on our measures often leads to bounded inequality in algorithmic outcomes; hence presenting the first computationally feasible mechanism for bounding individual-level inequality.


Fairness Behind a Veil of Ignorance: A Welfare Analysis for Automated Decision Making

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

We draw attention to an important, yet largely overlooked aspect of evaluating fairness for automated decision making systems---namely risk and welfare considerations. Our proposed family of measures corresponds to the long-established formulations of cardinal social welfare in economics. We come to this proposal by taking the perspective of a rational, risk-averse individual who is going to be subject to algorithmic decision making and is faced with the task of choosing between several algorithmic alternatives behind a Rawlsian veil of ignorance. The convex formulation of our measures allows us to integrate them as a constraint into any convex loss minimization pipeline. Our empirical analysis reveals interesting trade-offs between our proposal and (a) prediction accuracy, (b) group discrimination, and (c) Dwork et al.'s notion of individual fairness. Furthermore and perhaps most importantly, our work provides both theoretical and empirical evidence suggesting that a lower-bound on our measures often leads to bounded inequality in algorithmic outcomes; hence presenting the first computationally feasible mechanism for bounding individual-level (un)fairness.


Fairness Behind a Veil of Ignorance: A Welfare Analysis for Automated Decision Making

Neural Information Processing Systems

We draw attention to an important, yet largely overlooked aspect of evaluating fairness for automated decision making systems---namely risk and welfare considerations. Our proposed family of measures corresponds to the long-established formulations of cardinal social welfare in economics, and is justified by the Rawlsian conception of fairness behind a veil of ignorance. The convex formulation of our welfare-based measures of fairness allows us to integrate them as a constraint into any convex loss minimization pipeline. Our empirical analysis reveals interesting trade-offs between our proposal and (a) prediction accuracy, (b) group discrimination, and (c) Dwork et al's notion of individual fairness. Furthermore and perhaps most importantly, our work provides both heuristic justification and empirical evidence suggesting that a lower-bound on our measures often leads to bounded inequality in algorithmic outcomes; hence presenting the first computationally feasible mechanism for bounding individual-level inequality.


Fair Classification and Social Welfare

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Now that machine learning algorithms lie at the center of many resource allocation pipelines, computer scientists have been unwittingly cast as partial social planners. Given this state of affairs, important questions follow. What is the relationship between fairness as defined by computer scientists and notions of social welfare? In this paper, we present a welfare-based analysis of classification and fairness regimes. We translate a loss minimization program into a social welfare maximization problem with a set of implied welfare weights on individuals and groups--weights that can be analyzed from a distribution justice lens. In the converse direction, we ask what the space of possible labelings is for a given dataset and hypothesis class. We provide an algorithm that answers this question with respect to linear hyperplanes in $\mathbb{R}^d$ that runs in $O(n^dd)$. Our main findings on the relationship between fairness criteria and welfare center on sensitivity analyses of fairness-constrained empirical risk minimization programs. We characterize the ranges of $\Delta \epsilon$ perturbations to a fairness parameter $\epsilon$ that yield better, worse, and neutral outcomes in utility for individuals and by extension, groups. We show that applying more strict fairness criteria that are codified as parity constraints, can worsen welfare outcomes for both groups. More generally, always preferring "more fair" classifiers does not abide by the Pareto Principle---a fundamental axiom of social choice theory and welfare economics. Recent work in machine learning has rallied around these notions of fairness as critical to ensuring that algorithmic systems do not have disparate negative impact on disadvantaged social groups. By showing that these constraints often fail to translate into improved outcomes for these groups, we cast doubt on their effectiveness as a means to ensure justice.