Cynthia Dwork in the NYT on algorithmic fairness

Algorithms and Bias: Q & A with Cynthia Dwork

The NYT blog The Upshot does a Q&A with Cynthia Dwork on algorithmic bias. She hits the nail on the head right in the first question:

Q: Some people have argued that algorithms eliminate discrimination because they make decisions based on data, free of human bias. Others say algorithms reflect and perpetuate human biases. What do you think?

A: Algorithms do not automatically eliminate bias. Suppose a university, with admission and rejection records dating back for decades and faced with growing numbers of applicants, decides to use a machine learning algorithm that, using the historical records, identifies candidates who are more likely to be admitted. Historical biases in the training data will be learned by the algorithm, and past discrimination will lead to future discrimination.

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