Automated decision making algorithms are now used throughout industry and government, underpinning many processes from dynamic pricing to employment practices to criminal sentencing. Given that such algorithmically informed decisions have the potential for significant societal impact, the goal of this document is to help developers and product managers design and implement algorithmic systems in publicly accountable ways. Accountability in this context includes an obligation to report, explain, or justify algorithmic decision-making as well as mitigate any negative social impacts or potential harms.
We begin by outlining five equally important guiding principles that follow from this premise:
Algorithms and the data that drive them are designed and created by people -- There is always a human ultimately responsible for decisions made or informed by an algorithm. "The algorithm did it" is not an acceptable excuse if algorithmic systems make mistakes or have undesired consequences, including from machine-learning processes.
Make available externally visible avenues of redress for adverse individual or societal effects of an algorithmic decision system, and designate an internal role for the person who is responsible for the timely remedy of such issues.
Ensure that algorithmic decisions as well as any data driving those decisions can be explained to end-users and other stakeholders in non-technical terms.
Identify, log, and articulate sources of error and uncertainty throughout the algorithm and its data sources so that expected and worst case implications can be understood and inform mitigation procedures.
Ensure that algorithmic decisions do not create discriminatory or unjust impacts when comparing across different demographics (e.g. race, sex, etc).
We have left some of the terms above purposefully under-specified to allow these principles to be broadly applicable. Applying these principles well should include understanding them within a specific context. We also suggest that these issues be revisited and discussed throughout the design, implementation, and release phases of development. Two important principles for consideration were purposefully left off of this list as they are well-covered elsewhere: privacy and the impact of human experimentation. We encourage you to incorporate those issues into your overall assessment of algorithmic accountability as well.
In order to ensure their adherence to these principles and to publicly commit to associated best practices, we propose that algorithm creators develop a Social Impact Statement using the above principles as a guiding structure. This statement should be revisited and reassessed (at least) three times during the design and development process:
When the system is launched, the statement should be made public as a form of transparency so that the public has expectations for social impact of the system.
The Social Impact Statement should minimally answer the questions below. Included below are concrete steps that can be taken, and documented as part of the statement, to address these questions. These questions and steps make up an outline of such a social impact statement.
If you are using a machine-learning model:
Disclose the sources of any data used and as much as possible about the specific attributes of the data. Explain how the data was cleaned or otherwise transformed.
Talk to people who are familiar with the subtle social context in which you are deploying. For example, you should consider whether the following aspects of people’s identities will have impacts on their equitable access to and results from your system:
Country of origin
If you are building an automated decision-making tool, you should deploy a fairness-aware data mining algorithm. (See, e.g., the resources gathered at http://fatml.org).
Nicholas Diakopoulos, University of Maryland, College Park
Sorelle Friedler, Haverford College
Marcelo Arenas, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, CL
Solon Barocas, Microsoft Research
Michael Hay, Colgate University
Bill Howe, University of Washington
H. V. Jagadish, University of Michigan
Kris Unsworth, Drexel University
Arnaud Sahuguet, Cornell Tech
Suresh Venkatasubramanian, University of Utah
Christo Wilson, Northeastern University
Cong Yu, Google
Bendert Zevenbergen, University of Oxford