As Machine Learning technologies become increasingly used in contexts that affect citizens, companies as well as researchers need to be confident that their application of these methods will not have unexpected social implications, such as bias towards gender, ethnicity, and/or people with disabilities. There is significant literature on approaches to mitigate bias and promote fairness, yet the area is complex and hard to penetrate for newcomers to the domain. This article seeks to provide an overview of the different schools of thought and approaches to mitigating (social) biases and increase fairness in the Machine Learning literature. It organises approaches into the widely accepted framework of pre-processing, in-processing, and post-processing methods, subcategorizing into a further 11 method areas. Although much of the literature emphasizes binary classification, a discussion of fairness in regression, recommender systems, unsupervised learning, and natural language processing is also provided along with a selection of currently available open source libraries. The article concludes by summarising open challenges articulated as four dilemmas for fairness research.
Fairness emerged as an important requirement to guarantee that Machine Learning (ML) predictive systems do not discriminate against specific individuals or entire sub-populations, in particular, minorities. Given the inherent subjectivity of viewing the concept of fairness, several notions of fairness have been introduced in the literature. This paper is a survey that illustrates the subtleties between fairness notions through a large number of examples and scenarios. In addition, unlike other surveys in the literature, it addresses the question of “which notion of fairness is most suited to a given real-world scenario and why?”. Our attempt to answer this question consists in (1) identifying the set of fairness-related characteristics of the real-world scenario at hand, (2) analyzing the behavior of each fairness notion, and then (3) fitting these two elements to recommend the most suitable fairness notion in every specific setup. The results are summarized in a decision diagram that can be used by practitioners and policy makers to navigate the relatively large catalogue of ML fairness notions.
The nascent field of fair machine learning aims to ensure that decisions guided by algorithms are equitable. Over the last several years, three formal definitions of fairness have gained prominence: (1) anti-classification, meaning that protected attributes—like race, gender, and their proxies—are not explicitly used to make decisions; (2) classification parity, meaning that common measures of predictive performance (e.g., false positive and false negative rates) are equal across groups defined by the protected attributes; and (3) calibration, meaning that conditional on risk estimates, outcomes are independent of protected attributes. Here we show that all three of these fairness definitions suffer from significant statistical limitations. Requiring anticlassification or classification parity can, perversely, harm the very groups they were designed to protect; and calibration, though generally desirable, provides little guarantee that decisions are equitable. In contrast to these formal fairness criteria, we argue that it is often preferable to treat similarly risky people similarly, based on the most statistically accurate estimates of risk that one can produce. Such a strategy, while not universally applicable, often aligns well with policy objectives; notably, this strategy will typically violate both anti-classification and classification parity. In practice, it requires significant effort to construct suitable risk estimates. One must carefully define and measure the targets of prediction to avoid retrenching biases in the data. But, importantly, one cannot generally address these difficulties by requiring that algorithms satisfy popular mathematical formalizations of fairness. By highlighting these challenges in the foundation of fair machine learning, we hope to help researchers and practitioners productively advance the area.