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Making Decisions that Reduce Discriminatory Impacts

Matt J. Kusner · Chris Russell · Joshua Loftus · Ricardo Silva

Pacific Ballroom #138

Keywords: [ Fairness ] [ Causality ]


As machine learning algorithms move into real-world settings, it is crucial to ensure they are aligned with societal values. There has been much work on one aspect of this, namely the discriminatory prediction problem: How can we reduce discrimination in the predictions themselves? While an important question, solutions to this problem only apply in a restricted setting, as we have full control over the predictions. Often we care about the non-discrimination of quantities we do not have full control over. Thus, we describe another key aspect of this challenge, the discriminatory impact problem: How can we reduce discrimination arising from the real-world impact of decisions? To address this, we describe causal methods that model the relevant parts of the real-world system in which the decisions are made. Unlike previous approaches, these models not only allow us to map the causal pathway of a single decision, but also to model the effect of interference--how the impact on an individual depends on decisions made about other people. Often, the goal of decision policies is to maximize a beneficial impact overall. To reduce the discrimination of these benefits, we devise a constraint inspired by recent work in counterfactual fairness, and give an efficient procedure to solve the constrained optimization problem. We demonstrate our approach with an example: how to increase students taking college entrance exams in New York City public schools.

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