Using artificial intelligence to make decisions: Addressing the problem of algorithmic bias (2020)
Infographics: Historical bias in AI systems
Artificial intelligence (AI) promises better, smarter decision making.
Governments are starting to use AI to make decisions in welfare, policing and law enforcement, immigration, and many other areas. Meanwhile, the private sector is already using AI to make decisions about pricing and risk, to determine what sorts of people make the ‘best’ customers… In fact, the use cases for AI are limited only by our imagination.
However, using AI carries with it the risk of algorithmic bias. Unless we fully understand and address this risk, the promise of AI will be hollow.
Algorithmic bias is a kind of error associated with the use of AI in decision making, and often results in unfairness. Algorithmic bias can arise in many ways. Sometimes the problem is with the design of the AI-powered decision-making tool itself. Sometimes the problem lies with the data set that was used to train the AI tool, which could replicate or even make worse existing problems, including societal inequality.
Algorithmic bias can cause real harm. It can lead to a person being unfairly treated, or even suffering unlawful discrimination, on the basis of characteristics such as their race, age, sex or disability.
This project started by simulating a typical decision-making process. In this technical paper, we explore how algorithmic bias can ‘creep in’ to AI systems and, most importantly, how this problem can be addressed.
To ground our discussion, we chose a hypothetical scenario: an electricity retailer uses an AI-powered tool to decide how to offer its products to customers, and on what terms. The general principles and solutions for mitigating the problem, however, will be relevant far beyond this specific situation.
Because algorithmic bias can result in unlawful activity, there is a legal imperative to address this risk. However, good businesses go further than the bare minimum legal requirements, to ensure they always act ethically and do not jeopardise their good name.
Rigorous design, testing and monitoring can avoid algorithmic bias. This technical paper offers some guidance for companies to ensure that when they use AI, their decisions are fair, accurate and comply with human rights.
On behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission, I pay tribute to our partner organisations in this project for the deep expertise they provided throughout this work: Gradient Institute, Consumer Policy Research Centre, CHOICE and CSIRO’s Data61.
Human Rights Commissioner