Disambiguating Algorithmic Bias: From Neutrality to Justice

In Francesca Rossi, Sanmay Das, Jenny Davis, Kay Firth-Butterfield & Alex John (eds.), AIES '23: Proceedings of the 2023 AAAI/ACM Conference on AI, Ethics, and Society. Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 691-704 (2023)
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As algorithms have become ubiquitous in consequential domains, societal concerns about the potential for discriminatory outcomes have prompted urgent calls to address algorithmic bias. In response, a rich literature across computer science, law, and ethics is rapidly proliferating to advance approaches to designing fair algorithms. Yet computer scientists, legal scholars, and ethicists are often not speaking the same language when using the term ‘bias.’ Debates concerning whether society can or should tackle the problem of algorithmic bias are hampered by conflations of various understandings of bias, ranging from neutral deviations from a standard to morally problematic instances of injustice due to prejudice, discrimination, and disparate treatment. This terminological confusion impedes efforts to address clear cases of discrimination. In this paper, we examine the promises and challenges of different approaches to disambiguating bias and designing for justice. While both approaches aid in understanding and addressing clear algorithmic harms, we argue that they also risk being leveraged in ways that ultimately deflect accountability from those building and deploying these systems. Applying this analysis to recent examples of generative AI, our argument highlights unseen dangers in current methods of evaluating algorithmic bias and points to ways to redirect approaches to addressing bias in generative AI at its early stages in ways that can more robustly meet the demands of justice.



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Author Profiles

Alexandra Wood
New York University
Elizabeth Edenberg
Baruch College (CUNY)

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