A Harm-Reduction Framework for Algorithmic Fairness

16 IEEE Security & Privacy 34 (2018)

Berkman Klein Center Research Publication No. 2018-3

21 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2018

See all articles by Micah Altman

Micah Altman

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Libraries; The Brookings Institution

Alexandra Wood

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Effy Vayena

ETH Zurich

Date Written: August 3, 2018

Abstract

In this article we recognize the profound effects that algorithmic decision-making can have on people’s lives and propose a harm-reduction framework for algorithmic fairness. We argue that any evaluation of algorithmic fairness must take into account the foreseeable effects that algorithmic design, implementation, and use have on the well-being of individuals. We further demonstrate how counterfactual frameworks for causal inference developed in statistics and computer science can be used as the basis for defining and estimating the foreseeable effects of algorithmic decisions. Finally, we argue that certain patterns of foreseeable harms are unfair. An algorithmic decision is unfair if it imposes predictable harms on sets of individuals that are unconscionably disproportionate to the benefits these same decisions produce elsewhere. Also, an algorithmic decision is unfair when it is regressive, i.e., when members of disadvantaged groups pay a higher cost for the social benefits of that decision.

Suggested Citation

Altman, Micah and Wood, Alexandra and Vayena, Effy, A Harm-Reduction Framework for Algorithmic Fairness (August 3, 2018). 16 IEEE Security & Privacy 34 (2018); Berkman Klein Center Research Publication No. 2018-3. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3225887

Micah Altman (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Libraries ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

HOME PAGE: http://informatics.mit.edu

The Brookings Institution ( email )

1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

HOME PAGE: http://informatics.mit.edu

Alexandra Wood

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Effy Vayena

ETH Zurich ( email )

Zurich, 8001
Switzerland

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