AFOG hosted a workshop to lay the groundwork for broadening the “solution space” of algorithmic fairness.
In response to the overwhelming attention to issues of algorithmic fairness framed narrowly in terms of technical solutions, this workshop sought to lay the groundwork to broaden the ‘solution space’ of responsible AI to include not only technical implementations like algorithms or user-interface design but also to consider law and policy, standards-setting, incentive programs, organizational structures, labor organizing, and direct action.Full Report
In June of 2018, the Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Working Group (AFOG) held a summer workshop with the theme “Algorithms are Opaque and Unfair: Now What?.” The event was organized by Berkeley I School Professors (and AFOG co-directors) Jenna Burrell and Deirdre Mulligan and postdoc Daniel Kluttz, and Allison Woodruff and Jen Gennai from Google. Our working group is generously sponsored by Google Trust and Safety and hosted at the UC Berkeley School of Information.
Inspired by questions that came up at our biweekly working group meetings during the 2017-2018 academic year, we organized four panels for the workshop. The panel topics raised issues that we felt required deeper consideration and debate. To make progress we brought together a diverse, interdisciplinary group of experts from academia, industry, and civil society in a workshop-style environment. In panel discussions, we considered potential ways of acting on algorithmic (un)fairness and opacity. We sought to consider the fullest possible range of ‘solutions,’ including technical implementations (algorithms, user-interface designs), law and policy, standard-setting, incentive programs, new organizational processes, labor organizing, and direct action.
An examination of the limits of technical solutions to fairness, discussing particular examples of problems of fairness (and justice), including cash bail in the criminal justice system, “bad faith” search phrases (e.g., the question “Did the Holocaust happen?”), and representational harm in image-labeling.
Panelists and audience members discussed specific examples of problems of fairness (and justice), including cash bail in the criminal justice system, “bad faith” search phrases (e.g., the question, “Did the Holocaust happen?”), and representational harm in image-labeling. Panelists noted a key challenge that technology, on its own, is not good at explaining when it should not be used or when it has reached its limits. Panelists pointed out that understanding broader historical and sociological debates in the domain of application and investigating contemporary reform efforts, for example in criminal justice, can help to clarify the place of algorithmic prediction and classification tools in a given domain. Partnering with civil-society groups can ensure a sound basis for making tough decisions about when and how to intervene when a platform or software is found to be amplifying societal biases, is being gamed by “bad” actors, or otherwise facilitates harm to users.
In discussing the common rejoinder to criticism of automated decision making that such decisions are arguably an improvement over biased human decision-makers, panelists considered the assumptions in the comparison, pointing to the need to account for differences in the kinds of biases associated with human decision-making (including cognitive biases of all sorts) and those uniquely generated by machine learning.
The panel describes a common rejoinder to criticism of automated decision-making. This panel sought to consider the assumptions of this comparison between humans and machine automation. There is a need to account for differences in the kinds of biases associated with human decision-making (including cognitive biases of all sorts) and those uniquely generated by machine reasoning. The panel discussed the ways that humans rely on or reject decision-support software. For example, work by one of the panelists, Professor Angèle Christin, shows how algorithmic tools deployed in professional environments may be contested or ignored. Guidelines directed at humans about how to use particular systems of algorithmic classification in low- as opposed to high-stakes domains can go unheeded. This seemed to be the case in at least one example of how Amazon’s facial recognition system has been applied in a law-enforcement context. Such cases underscore the point that humans aren’t generally eliminated when automated-decision systems are deployed; they still decide how they are to be configured and implemented, which may disrupt whatever gains in “fairness” might otherwise be realized. Rather than working to establish which is better–human or machine decision-making–we suggest developing research on the most effective ways to bring automated tools and humans together to form hybrid decision-making systems.
Examines how sociotechnical systems can enhance the autonomy of humans who are subject to automated decision-making tools. Panelists considered how users and other ‘stakeholders’ might identify errors, unfairness, and make other kinds of requests to influence and improve the system in question.
The panel examined how we can enhance the autonomy of humans who are subject to automated decision-making tools. Focusing on “fairness” as a resource allocation or algorithmic problem tends to assume it is something to be worked out by experts. Taking an alternative approach, we discussed how users and other ‘stakeholders’ can identify errors, unfairness, and make other kinds of requests to influence and improve the platform or system in question. What is the best way to structure points of user feedback? Panelists pointed out that design possibilities range from lightweight feedback mechanisms to support for richer, agonistic debate. Not-for-profit models, such as Wikipedia, demonstrate the feasibility of high transparency and open debate about platform design. Yet participation on Wikipedia, while technically open to anyone, requires a high investment of time and energy to develop mastery of the platform and the norms of participation. “Flagging” functions, on the other hand, are pervasive, lightweight tools found on most mainstream platforms. However, they often serve primarily to shift governance work onto users without the potential to fundamentally influence platform policies or practices. Furthermore, limiting consideration to the autonomy of platform users misses the crucial fact that many automated decisions are imposed on people who never use the system directly.
Panelists probe issues of algorithmic accountability and oversight, looking to audits in other industries like finance and safety-critical industries that have long used auditing, suggesting a need to innovate auditing procedures if they are to be applied to the specific challenges of algorithmic fairness.
Probing issues of algorithmic accountability and oversight, panelists recognized that auditing (whether in finance or safety-critical industries) promotes a culture of “slow down and do a good job,” which runs counter to the “move fast and break things” mindset that has long defined the tech industry. Yet corporations, including those in the tech sector, do have in-house auditing teams (in particular, for financial auditing) whose expertise and practices could serve as models. Generally, internal audits concern the quality of a process rather than the validity of the “outputs.” Panelists pointed out that certain processes developed for traditional auditing might work for auditing “fairness,” as well. A “design history file,” for example, is required in the development of medical devices to provide transparency that facilitates FDA review. In the safety-critical arena, there are numerous techniques and approaches, including structured safety cases, hazard analysis, instrumentation and monitoring, and processes for accident investigation. But there are also particular challenges “fairness” presents to attempts to develop an audit process for algorithms and algorithmic systems. For one, and recalling Panel 1’s discussion, there are numerous valid definitions of fairness. In addition, problems of “fairness” are often not self-evident or exposed through discrete incidents (as accidents are in safety-critical industries). These observations suggest a need to innovate auditing procedures if they are to be applied to the specific challenges of algorithmic fairness.