Kernel Dependence Regularizers and Gaussian Processes with Applications to Algorithmic Fairness

11 Nov 2019  ·  Zhu Li, Adrian Perez-Suay, Gustau Camps-Valls, Dino Sejdinovic ·

Current adoption of machine learning in industrial, societal and economical activities has raised concerns about the fairness, equity and ethics of automated decisions. Predictive models are often developed using biased datasets and thus retain or even exacerbate biases in their decisions and recommendations. Removing the sensitive covariates, such as gender or race, is insufficient to remedy this issue since the biases may be retained due to other related covariates. We present a regularization approach to this problem that trades off predictive accuracy of the learned models (with respect to biased labels) for the fairness in terms of statistical parity, i.e. independence of the decisions from the sensitive covariates. In particular, we consider a general framework of regularized empirical risk minimization over reproducing kernel Hilbert spaces and impose an additional regularizer of dependence between predictors and sensitive covariates using kernel-based measures of dependence, namely the Hilbert-Schmidt Independence Criterion (HSIC) and its normalized version. This approach leads to a closed-form solution in the case of squared loss, i.e. ridge regression. Moreover, we show that the dependence regularizer has an interpretation as modifying the corresponding Gaussian process (GP) prior. As a consequence, a GP model with a prior that encourages fairness to sensitive variables can be derived, allowing principled hyperparameter selection and studying of the relative relevance of covariates under fairness constraints. Experimental results in synthetic examples and in real problems of income and crime prediction illustrate the potential of the approach to improve fairness of automated decisions.

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