Causality-Aided Trade-off Analysis for Machine Learning Fairness

Zhenlan Ji, Pingchuan Ma, Shuai Wang, Yanhui Li

There has been an increasing interest in enhancing the fairness of machine learning (ML). Despite the growing number of fairness-improving methods, we lack a systematic understanding of the trade-offs among factors considered in the ML pipeline when fairness-improving methods are applied. This understanding is essential for developers to make informed decisions regarding the provision of fair ML services. Nonetheless, it is extremely difficult to analyze the trade-offs when there are multiple fairness parameters and other crucial metrics involved, coupled, and even in conflict with one another. This paper uses causality analysis as a principled method for analyzing trade-offs between fairness parameters and other crucial metrics in ML pipelines. To ractically and effectively conduct causality analysis, we propose a set of domain-specific optimizations to facilitate accurate causal discovery and a unified, novel interface for trade-off analysis based on well-established causal inference methods. We conduct a comprehensive empirical study using three real-world datasets on a collection of widelyused fairness-improving techniques. Our study obtains actionable suggestions for users and developers of fair ML. We further demonstrate the versatile usage of our approach in selecting the optimal fairness-improving method, paving the way for more ethical and socially responsible AI technologies.

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