A New Paradigm for Counterfactual Reasoning in Fairness and Recourse

Lucius E. J. Bynum, Joshua R. Loftus, Julia Stoyanovich
Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence (cs.AI), Computers and Society (cs.CY), Machine Learning (stat.ML)
2024-01-25 00:00:00
Counterfactuals and counterfactual reasoning underpin numerous techniques for auditing and understanding artificial intelligence (AI) systems. The traditional paradigm for counterfactual reasoning in this literature is the interventional counterfactual, where hypothetical interventions are imagined and simulated. For this reason, the starting point for causal reasoning about legal protections and demographic data in AI is an imagined intervention on a legally-protected characteristic, such as ethnicity, race, gender, disability, age, etc. We ask, for example, what would have happened had your race been different? An inherent limitation of this paradigm is that some demographic interventions -- like interventions on race -- may not translate into the formalisms of interventional counterfactuals. In this work, we explore a new paradigm based instead on the backtracking counterfactual, where rather than imagine hypothetical interventions on legally-protected characteristics, we imagine alternate initial conditions while holding these characteristics fixed. We ask instead, what would explain a counterfactual outcome for you as you actually are or could be? This alternate framework allows us to address many of the same social concerns, but to do so while asking fundamentally different questions that do not rely on demographic interventions.
PDF: A New Paradigm for Counterfactual Reasoning in Fairness and Recourse.pdf
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