Ensuring Fairness Beyond the Training Data

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

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Debmalya Mandal, Samuel Deng, Suman Jana, Jeannette Wing, Daniel J. Hsu


We initiate the study of fair classifiers that are robust to perturbations in the training distribution. Despite recent progress, the literature on fairness has largely ignored the design of fair and robust classifiers. In this work, we develop classifiers that are fair not only with respect to the training distribution but also for a class of distributions that are weighted perturbations of the training samples. We formulate a min-max objective function whose goal is to minimize a distributionally robust training loss, and at the same time, find a classifier that is fair with respect to a class of distributions. We first reduce this problem to finding a fair classifier that is robust with respect to the class of distributions. Based on an online learning algorithm, we develop an iterative algorithm that provably converges to such a fair and robust solution. Experiments on standard machine learning fairness datasets suggest that, compared to the state-of-the-art fair classifiers, our classifier retains fairness guarantees and test accuracy for a large class of perturbations on the test set. Furthermore, our experiments show that there is an inherent trade-off between fairness robustness and accuracy of such classifiers.