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MISC/Social Aspects

Room 307

Moderator: Charles Marx

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Thu 21 July 10:30 - 10:35 PDT

Learning Stable Classifiers by Transferring Unstable Features

Yujia Bao · Shiyu Chang · Regina Barzilay

While unbiased machine learning models are essential for many applications, bias is a human-defined concept that can vary across tasks. Given only input-label pairs, algorithms may lack sufficient information to distinguish stable (causal) features from unstable (spurious) features. However, related tasks often share similar biases -- an observation we may leverage to develop stable classifiers in the transfer setting. In this work, we explicitly inform the target classifier about unstable features in the source tasks. Specifically, we derive a representation that encodes the unstable features by contrasting different data environments in the source task. We achieve robustness by clustering data of the target task according to this representation and minimizing the worst-case risk across these clusters. We evaluate our method on both text and image classifications. Empirical results demonstrate that our algorithm is able to maintain robustness on the target task for both synthetically generated environments and real-world environments. Our code is available at

Thu 21 July 10:35 - 10:40 PDT

Data-Efficient Double-Win Lottery Tickets from Robust Pre-training

Tianlong Chen · Zhenyu Zhang · Sijia Liu · Yang Zhang · Shiyu Chang · Zhangyang “Atlas” Wang

Pre-training serves as a broadly adopted starting point for transfer learning on various downstream tasks. Recent investigations of lottery tickets hypothesis (LTH) demonstrate such enormous pre-trained models can be replaced by extremely sparse subnetworks (a.k.a. matching subnetworks) without sacrificing transferability. However, practical security-crucial applications usually pose more challenging requirements beyond standard transfer, which also demand these subnetworks to overcome adversarial vulnerability. In this paper, we formulate a more rigorous concept, Double-Win Lottery Tickets, in which a located subnetwork from a pre-trained model can be independently transferred on diverse downstream tasks, to reach BOTH the same standard and robust generalization, under BOTH standard and adversarial training regimes, as the full pre-trained model can do. We comprehensively examine various pre-training mechanisms and find that robust pre-training tends to craft sparser double-win lottery tickets with superior performance over the standard counterparts. For example, on downstream CIFAR-10/100 datasets, we identify double-win matching subnetworks with the standard, fast adversarial, and adversarial pre-training from ImageNet, at 89.26%/73.79%, 89.26%/79.03%, and 91.41%/83.22% sparsity, respectively. Furthermore, we observe the obtained double-win lottery tickets can be more data-efficient to transfer, under practical data-limited (e.g., 1% and 10%) downstream schemes. Our results show that the benefits from robust pre-training are amplified by the lottery ticket scheme, as well as the data-limited transfer setting. Codes are available at

Thu 21 July 10:40 - 10:45 PDT

Attentional Meta-learners for Few-shot Polythetic Classification

Ben Day · Ramon Viñas Torné · Nikola Simidjievski · Pietro Lió

Polythetic classifications, based on shared patterns of features that need neither be universal nor constant among members of a class, are common in the natural world and greatly outnumber monothetic classifications over a set of features. We show that threshold meta-learners, such as Prototypical Networks, require an embedding dimension that is exponential in the number of task-relevant features to emulate these functions. In contrast, attentional classifiers, such as Matching Networks, are polythetic by default and able to solve these problems with a linear embedding dimension. However, we find that in the presence of task-irrelevant features, inherent to meta-learning problems, attentional models are susceptible to misclassification. To address this challenge, we propose a self-attention feature-selection mechanism that adaptively dilutes non-discriminative features. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach in meta-learning Boolean functions, and synthetic and real-world few-shot learning tasks.

Thu 21 July 10:45 - 10:50 PDT

C*-algebra Net: A New Approach Generalizing Neural Network Parameters to C*-algebra

Yuka Hashimoto · Zhao Wang · Tomoko Matsui

We propose a new framework that generalizes the parameters of neural network models to $C^*$-algebra-valued ones. $C^*$-algebra is a generalization of the space of complex numbers. A typical example is the space of continuous functions on a compact space. This generalization enables us to combine multiple models continuously and use tools for functions such as regression and integration. Consequently, we can learn features of data efficiently and adapt the models to problems continuously. We apply our framework to practical problems such as density estimation and few-shot learning and show that our framework enables us to learn features of data even with a limited number of samples. Our new framework highlights the potential possibility of applying the theory of $C^*$-algebra to general neural network models.

Thu 21 July 10:50 - 10:55 PDT

Nonlinear Feature Diffusion on Hypergraphs

Konstantin Prokopchik · Austin Benson · Francesco Tudisco

Hypergraphs are a common model for multiway relationships in data, and hypergraph semi-supervised learning is the problem of assigning labels to all nodes in a hypergraph, given labels on just a few nodes. Diffusions and label spreading are classical techniques for semi-supervised learning in the graph setting, and there are some standard ways to extend them to hypergraphs.However, these methods are linear models, and do not offer an obvious way of incorporating node features for making predictions.Here, we develop a nonlinear diffusion process on hypergraphs that spreads both features and labels following the hypergraph structure. Even though the process is nonlinear, we show global convergence to a unique limiting point for a broad class of nonlinearities and we show that such limit is the global minimum of a new regularized semi-supervised learning loss function which aims at reducing a generalized form of variance of the nodes across the hyperedges.The limiting point serves as a node embedding from which we make predictions with a linear model. Our approach is competitive with state-of-the-art graph and hypergraph neural networks, and also takes less time to train.

Thu 21 July 10:55 - 11:00 PDT

Kernel Methods for Radial Transformed Compositional Data with Many Zeros

Junyoung Park · Changwon Yoon · Cheolwoo Park · Jeongyoun Ahn

Compositional data analysis with a high proportion of zeros has gained increasing popularity, especially in chemometrics and human gut microbiomes research. Statistical analyses of this type of data are typically carried out via a log-ratio transformation after replacing zeros with small positive values. We should note, however, that this procedure is geometrically improper, as it causes anomalous distortions through the transformation. We propose a radial transformation that does not require zero substitutions and more importantly results in essential equivalence between domains before and after the transformation. We show that a rich class of kernels on hyperspheres can successfully define a kernel embedding for compositional data based on this equivalence. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work that theoretically establishes the availability of the extensive library of kernel-based machine learning methods for compositional data. The applicability of the proposed approach is demonstrated with kernel principal component analysis.

Thu 21 July 11:00 - 11:05 PDT

Robust Task Representations for Offline Meta-Reinforcement Learning via Contrastive Learning

Haoqi Yuan · Zongqing Lu

We study offline meta-reinforcement learning, a practical reinforcement learning paradigm that learns from offline data to adapt to new tasks. The distribution of offline data is determined jointly by the behavior policy and the task. Existing offline meta-reinforcement learning algorithms cannot distinguish these factors, making task representations unstable to the change of behavior policies. To address this problem, we propose a contrastive learning framework for task representations that are robust to the distribution mismatch of behavior policies in training and test. We design a bi-level encoder structure, use mutual information maximization to formalize task representation learning, derive a contrastive learning objective, and introduce several approaches to approximate the true distribution of negative pairs. Experiments on a variety of offline meta-reinforcement learning benchmarks demonstrate the advantages of our method over prior methods, especially on the generalization to out-of-distribution behavior policies.

Thu 21 July 11:05 - 11:25 PDT

Outstanding Paper
Causal Conceptions of Fairness and their Consequences

Hamed Nilforoshan · Johann Gaebler · Ravi Shroff · Sharad Goel

Recent work highlights the role of causality in designing equitable decision-making algorithms. It is not immediately clear, however, how existing causal conceptions of fairness relate to one another, or what the consequences are of using these definitions as design principles. Here, we first assemble and categorize popular causal definitions of algorithmic fairness into two broad families: (1) those that constrain the effects of decisions on counterfactual disparities; and (2) those that constrain the effects of legally protected characteristics, like race and gender, on decisions. We then show, analytically and empirically, that both families of definitions \emph{almost always}---in a measure theoretic sense---result in strongly Pareto dominated decision policies, meaning there is an alternative, unconstrained policy favored by every stakeholder with preferences drawn from a large, natural class. For example, in the case of college admissions decisions, policies constrained to satisfy causal fairness definitions would be disfavored by every stakeholder with neutral or positive preferences for both academic preparedness and diversity.Indeed, under a prominent definition of causal fairness, we prove the resulting policies require admitting all students with the same probability, regardless of academic qualifications or group membership. Our results highlight formal limitations and potential adverse consequences of common mathematical notions of causal fairness.

Thu 21 July 11:25 - 11:30 PDT

Fairness with Adaptive Weights

Junyi Chai · Xiaoqian Wang

Fairness is now an important issue in machine learning. There are arising concerns that automated decision-making systems reflect real-world biases. Although a wide range of fairness-related methods have been proposed in recent years, the under-representation problem has been less studied. Due to the uneven distribution of samples from different populations, machine learning models tend to be biased against minority groups when trained by minimizing the average empirical risk across all samples. In this paper, we propose a novel adaptive reweighing method to address representation bias. The goal of our method is to achieve group-level balance among different demographic groups by learning adaptive weights for each sample. Our approach emphasizes more on error-prone samples in prediction and enhances adequate representation of minority groups for fairness. We derive a closed-form solution for adaptive weight assignment and propose an efficient algorithm with theoretical convergence guarantees. We theoretically analyze the fairness of our model and empirically verify that our method strikes a balance between fairness and accuracy. In experiments, our method achieves comparable or better performance than state-of-the-art methods in both classification and regression tasks. Furthermore, our method exhibits robustness to label noise on various benchmark datasets.

Thu 21 July 11:30 - 11:35 PDT

Understanding Instance-Level Impact of Fairness Constraints

Jialu Wang · Xin Eric Wang · Yang Liu

A variety of fairness constraints have been proposed in the literature to mitigate group-level statistical bias. Their impacts have been largely evaluated for different groups of populations corresponding to a set of sensitive attributes, such as race or gender. Nonetheless, the community has not observed sufficient explorations for how imposing fairness constraints fare at an instance level. Building on the concept of influence function, a measure that characterizes the impact of a training example on the target model and its predictive performance, this work studies the influence of training examples when fairness constraints are imposed. We find out that under certain assumptions, the influence function with respect to fairness constraints can be decomposed into a kernelized combination of training examples. One promising application of the proposed fairness influence function is to identify suspicious training examples that may cause model discrimination by ranking their influence scores. We demonstrate with extensive experiments that training on a subset of weighty data examples leads to lower fairness violations with a trade-off of accuracy.

Thu 21 July 11:35 - 11:40 PDT

Achieving Fairness at No Utility Cost via Data Reweighing with Influence

Peizhao Li · Hongfu Liu

With the fast development of algorithmic governance, fairness has become a compulsory property for machine learning models to suppress unintentional discrimination. In this paper, we focus on the pre-processing aspect for achieving fairness, and propose a data reweighing approach that only adjusts the weight for samples in the training phase. Different from most previous reweighing methods which usually assign a uniform weight for each (sub)group, we granularly model the influence of each training sample with regard to fairness-related quantity and predictive utility, and compute individual weights based on influence under the constraints from both fairness and utility. Experimental results reveal that previous methods achieve fairness at a non-negligible cost of utility, while as a significant advantage, our approach can empirically release the tradeoff and obtain cost-free fairness for equal opportunity. We demonstrate the cost-free fairness through vanilla classifiers and standard training processes, compared to baseline methods on multiple real-world tabular datasets. Code available at

Thu 21 July 11:40 - 11:45 PDT

Mitigating Gender Bias in Face Recognition using the von Mises-Fisher Mixture Model

Jean-Rémy Conti · Nathan NOIRY · Stephan Clemencon · Vincent Despiegel · Stéphane Gentric

In spite of the high performance and reliability of deep learning algorithms in a wide range of everyday applications, many investigations tend to show that a lot of models exhibit biases, discriminating against specific subgroups of the population (e.g. gender, ethnicity). This urges the practitioner to develop fair systems with a uniform/comparable performance across sensitive groups. In this work, we investigate the gender bias of deep Face Recognition networks. In order to measure this bias, we introduce two new metrics, BFAR and BFRR, that better reflect the inherent deployment needs of Face Recognition systems. Motivated by geometric considerations, we mitigate gender bias through a new post-processing methodology which transforms the deep embeddings of a pre-trained model to give more representation power to discriminated subgroups. It consists in training a shallow neural network by minimizing a Fair von Mises-Fisher loss whose hyperparameters account for the intra-class variance of each gender. Interestingly, we empirically observe that these hyperparameters are correlated with our fairness metrics. In fact, extensive numerical experiments on a variety of datasets show that a careful selection significantly reduces gender bias.

Thu 21 July 11:45 - 11:50 PDT

Selective Regression under Fairness Criteria

Abhin Shah · Yuheng Bu · Joshua Lee · Subhro Das · Rameswar Panda · Prasanna Sattigeri · Gregory Wornell

Selective regression allows abstention from prediction if the confidence to make an accurate prediction is not sufficient. In general, by allowing a reject option, one expects the performance of a regression model to increase at the cost of reducing coverage (i.e., by predicting on fewer samples). However, as we show, in some cases, the performance of a minority subgroup can decrease while we reduce the coverage, and thus selective regression can magnify disparities between different sensitive subgroups. Motivated by these disparities, we propose new fairness criteria for selective regression requiring the performance of every subgroup to improve with a decrease in coverage. We prove that if a feature representation satisfies the \textit{sufficiency} criterion or is \textit{calibrated for mean and variance}, then the proposed fairness criteria is met. Further, we introduce two approaches to mitigate the performance disparity across subgroups: (a) by regularizing an upper bound of conditional mutual information under a Gaussian assumption and (b) by regularizing a contrastive loss for conditional mean and conditional variance prediction. The effectiveness of these approaches is demonstrated on synthetic and real-world datasets.

Thu 21 July 11:50 - 11:55 PDT

Input-agnostic Certified Group Fairness via Gaussian Parameter Smoothing

Jiayin Jin · Zeru Zhang · Yang Zhou · Lingfei Wu

Only recently, researchers attempt to provide classification algorithms with provable group fairness guarantees. Most of these algorithms suffer from harassment caused by the requirement that the training and deployment data follow the same distribution. This paper proposes an input-agnostic certified group fairness algorithm, FairSmooth, for improving the fairness of classification models while maintaining the remarkable prediction accuracy. A Gaussian parameter smoothing method is developed to transform base classifiers into their smooth versions. An optimal individual smooth classifier is learnt for each group with only the data regarding the group and an overall smooth classifier for all groups is generated by averaging the parameters of all the individual smooth ones. By leveraging the theory of nonlinear functional analysis, the smooth classifiers are reformulated as output functions of a Nemytskii operator. Theoretical analysis is conducted to derive that the Nemytskii operator is smooth and induces a Frechet differentiable smooth manifold. We theoretically demonstrate that the smooth manifold has a global Lipschitz constant that is independent of the domain of the input data, which derives the input-agnostic certified group fairness.