Department of Computer Science
Department of Information Science
Ithaca, NY 14853
Institutional Affiliation: Cornell University
NBER Working Papers and Publications
|May 2020||An Economic Approach to Regulating Algorithms|
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There is growing concern about "algorithmic bias" - that predictive algorithms used in decision-making might bake in or exacerbate discrimination in society. When will these "biases" arise? What should be done about them? We argue that such questions are naturally answered using the tools of welfare economics: a social welfare function for the policymaker, a private objective function for the algorithm designer and a model of their information sets and interaction. We build such a model that allows the training data to exhibit a wide range of "biases." Prevailing wisdom is that biased data change how the algorithm is trained and whether an algorithm should be used at all. In contrast, we find two striking irrelevance results. First, when the social planner builds the algorithm, her equity ...
|May 2019||Simplicity Creates Inequity: Implications for Fairness, Stereotypes, and Interpretability|
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Algorithms are increasingly used to aid, or in some cases supplant, human decision-making, particularly for decisions that hinge on predictions. As a result, two additional features in addition to prediction quality have generated interest: (i) to facilitate human interaction and understanding with these algorithms, we desire prediction functions that are in some fashion simple or interpretable; and (ii) because they influence consequential decisions, we also want them to produce equitable allocations. We develop a formal model to explore the relationship between the demands of simplicity and equity. Although the two concepts appear to be motivated by qualitatively distinct goals, we show a fundamental inconsistency between them. Specifically, we formalize a general framework for producing...
|February 2019||Discrimination In The Age Of Algorithms|
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The law forbids discrimination. But the ambiguity of human decision-making often makes it extraordinarily hard for the legal system to know whether anyone has actually discriminated. To understand how algorithms affect discrimination, we must therefore also understand how they affect the problem of detecting discrimination. By one measure, algorithms are fundamentally opaque, not just cognitively but even mathematically. Yet for the task of proving discrimination, processes involving algorithms can provide crucial forms of transparency that are otherwise unavailable. These benefits do not happen automatically. But with appropriate requirements in place, the use of algorithms will make it possible to more easily examine and interrogate the entire decision process, thereby making it far e...
Published: Jon Kleinberg & Jens Ludwig & Sendhil Mullainathan & Cass R Sunstein, 2018. "Discrimination in the Age of Algorithms," Journal of Legal Analysis, vol 10.
|February 2017||Human Decisions and Machine Predictions|
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We examine how machine learning can be used to improve and understand human decision-making. In particular, we focus on a decision that has important policy consequences. Millions of times each year, judges must decide where defendants will await trial—at home or in jail. By law, this decision hinges on the judge’s prediction of what the defendant would do if released. This is a promising machine learning application because it is a concrete prediction task for which there is a large volume of data available. Yet comparing the algorithm to the judge proves complicated. First, the data are themselves generated by prior judge decisions. We only observe crime outcomes for released defendants, not for those judges detained. This makes it hard to evaluate counterfactual decision rules based on...
Published: Jon Kleinberg & Himabindu Lakkaraju & Jure Leskovec & Jens Ludwig & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2018. "Human Decisions and Machine Predictions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 133(1), pages 237-293. citation courtesy of