Fairness without Demographics through Adversarially Reweighted Learning

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Preethi Lahoti, Alex Beutel, Jilin Chen, Kang Lee, Flavien Prost, Nithum Thain, Xuezhi Wang, Ed Chi


Much of the previous machine learning (ML) fairness literature assumes that protected features such as race and sex are present in the dataset, and relies upon them to mitigate fairness concerns. However, in practice factors like privacy and regulation often preclude the collection of protected features, or their use for training or inference, severely limiting the applicability of traditional fairness research. Therefore, we ask: How can we train a ML model to improve fairness when we do not even know the protected group memberships? In this work we address this problem by proposing Adversarially Reweighted Learning (ARL). In particular, we hypothesize that non-protected features and task labels are valuable for identifying fairness issues, and can be used to co-train an adversarial reweighting approach for improving fairness. Our results show that ARL improves Rawlsian Max-Min fairness, with notable AUC improvements for worst-case protected groups in multiple datasets, outperforming state-of-the-art alternatives.