White House Report on Algorithmic Fairness

The White House has put out a report on big data and algorithmic fairness (announcement, full report).  From the announcement:

Using case studies on credit lending, employment, higher education, and criminal justice, the report we are releasing today illustrates how big data techniques can be used to detect bias and prevent discrimination. It also demonstrates the risks involved, particularly how technologies can deliberately or inadvertently perpetuate, exacerbate, or mask discrimination.

The table of contents for the report gives a good overview of the issues addressed:

Big Data and Access to Credit
The Problem: Many Americans lack access to affordable credit due to thin or non-existent credit files.
The Big Data Opportunity: Use of big data in lending can increase access to credit for the financially underserved.
The Big Data Challenge: Expanding access to affordable credit while preserving consumer rights that protect against discrimination in credit eligibility decisions

Big Data and Employment
The Problem: Traditional hiring practices may unnecessarily filter out applicants whose skills match the job opening.
The Big Data Opportunity: Big data can be used to uncover or possibly reduce employment discrimination.
The Big Data Challenge: Promoting fairness, ethics, and mechanisms for mitigating discrimination in employment opportunity.

Big Data and Higher Education
The Problem: Students often face challenges accessing higher education, finding information to help choose the right college, and staying enrolled.
The Big Data Opportunity: Using big data can increase educational opportunities for the students who most need them.
The Big Data Challenge: Administrators must be careful to address the possibility of discrimination in higher education admissions decisions.

Big Data and Criminal Justice
The Problem: In a rapidly evolving world, law enforcement officials are looking for smart ways to use new technologies to increase community safety and trust.
The Big Data Opportunity: Data and algorithms can potentially help law enforcement become more transparent, effective, and efficient.
The Big Data Challenge: The law enforcement community can use new technologies to enhance trust and public safety in the community, especially through measures that promote transparency and accountability and mitigate risks of disparities in treatment and outcomes based on individual characteristics.

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Obama invokes Rawls

In a commencement speech at Howard University, Obama does an implicit shout out to Rawls and the Veil of Ignorance:

If you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born and you did not know ahead of time who you were going to be , what nationality, or it gender, what race, whether you would be rich, poor, and a or straight — gay or straight, what faith you would be born into, you would not choose 100 years ago. you would not choose the 1950’s, the 1960’s, or the 1970’s. he would choose right now. If you had to choose a time to be in the world to be younger, gifted and black in america, you would choose right now

While I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion, the fact that he invokes the Veil of Ignorance is what I find interesting.

See the clip here (starts at 12:45)

http://www.c-span.org/video/?409107-1/president-obama-delivers-commencement-address-howard-university&start=704