W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-silver@w3.org > July 2019

Re: TED talk on algorithm bias

From: Judy Brewer <jbrewer@w3.org>
Date: Wed, 10 Jul 2019 15:48:43 -0400
To: John Foliot <john.foliot@deque.com>, Jeanne Spellman <jspellman@spellmanconsulting.com>
Cc: Silver Task Force <public-silver@w3.org>
Message-ID: <0b921042-a02b-f0df-22e2-e1b279b70084@w3.org>
I did not see any direct conclusions being drawn, from the TED talk that 
Jeanne cited, to how WCAG or other future guidelines handle compliance 
scoring. Perhaps there was relevant discussion in the Silver Task Force, 
but I'm not seeing it here.

There has been much public commentary of the general risks of AI bias. I 
cited Joy Buolamwini's talk on data pitfalls and AI bias for multiple 
reasons, including that she incorporates data from her research, in 
showing some risks of data when one does not think through potential 
sources of bias.

The question of how data is used by AI/ML to advance accessibility, 
without inadvertently mis-using it, is a useful question to raise, and I 
appreciate Jeanne's sharing the TED talk that she did. Yes, we will 
increasingly need to rely on data to advance accessibility -- and we 
need to be cognizant about how we rely on it.

Jutta's work helps elucidate some of the risks in the field of data 
usage in accessibility; also how to potentially address those risks.

Peter Fay, Phill Jenkins and Shari Trewin summarize some of IBM's work 
on AI Fairness for people with disabilities here: 
https://researcher.watson.ibm.com/researcher/view_group.php?id=9666

I'm glad to see people looking into these questions.

- Judy

On 7/10/2019 2:16 PM, John Foliot wrote:
> Thanks Jeanne for sharing these. I've not spend the requisite time 
> with the longer video, but did review the shorter one.
>
> I have to say that I am personally concerned by the seemingly 
> definitive declaration that "...blind faith in big data must end..." 
> as nobody (certainly not me) has suggested that we put blind faith in 
> anything. But data is what we are working on and with; it is in many 
> ways our stock in trade, and is what "measurement" is all about. 
> Measurement is data (whether big or small).
>
> *Without data, you have nothing but opinion.*
>
> Ms. O'Neil states:
>
>     "(1:49) /Algorithms are opinions embedded in code.../"
>
>
> That's one way of looking at it (Cathy O'Neil's_opinion_), however is 
> it the *only* way of looking at it?
>
> I'll suggest that Ms. O'Neil has politicized "data" to fit her 
> narrative; Merriam Webster *apolitically* defines algorithm 
> <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/algorithm>, as 
> ".../broadly:/ /a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or 
> accomplishing some end. ... Algorithm is often paired with words 
> specifying the activity for which a set of rules have been designed./"
>
> That is what we are doing: we're defining "problems" (use-cases), and 
> we're also proposing methods (step-by-step procedures) and rules 
> (Requirements) to address those use-cases. Finally, we need a 
> mechanism beyond Pass/Fail (100% or 0%) to measure the progress or 
> success of solving the use-case scenario.
>
> In WCAG, we assumed a simple Pass/Fail approach which we now know is 
> neither accurate nor fair, and so in Silver we're going with a 
> "somewhere between black and white - i.e. a shade of gray" approach.
>
> Defining and measuring that gray will require math, and yes also 
> opinions - the opinions of experts and concerned parties in the field. 
> What makes one "method" preferable to another? Says who, and why? 
> (Says experts, in their opinion, based on experience and... that's 
> right, data).
>
>     "(2:03) /That's a marketing trick ...because you trust and fear
>     mathematics.../"
>
> Pfft. That is one woman's opinion - I neither fear nor trust math any 
> more than I fear or trust physics - I know our understanding and use 
> of physics is not always perfect, but like democracy, it's better than 
> any of the other options available to me.
>
>     "(7:20) /...and we have plenty of evidence of bias policing and
>     justice system data.../"
>
> Am I the only one who finds it ironic that Ms. On'Neil is using 
> selective evidence and data to make her point that evidence and data 
> is biased? IMHO, she shot down her own argument right there, and she 
> spends a good portion of the remainder of that video using and 
> interpreting specifically selected data to make her point. For 
> example, she surfaces *_one use-case_* of a recidivism risk algorithm 
> that resulted in cultural bias in Florida to "prove" that her 
> assertion that all algorithms have a bias: she used data to arrive at 
> a conclusion.
>
>     "(8:36) /...When they're secret, important and destructive.../"
>
> If I found one important take-away from this video, it was this: _the 
> openness of our algorithm will be a critical component_. There is a 
> world of difference between "Black-box" algorithms and open and 
> transparent algorithms. Thankfully, we've already stated categorically 
> that:
>
>
>           Scoring
>
>     Point scoring system - we have been working on a point system and
>     have a number of prototypes. This is what we most need help on. It
>     must be transparent and have rulesthatcan be applied across
>     different guidance. We are not going to individually decide what a
>     Method is worth because it doesn't meet the needs of regulators
>     for transparency, it doesn't scale, and it is too vulnerable to
>     influence.
>
>     (source:
>     https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wklZRJAIPzdp2RmRKZcVsyRdXpgFbqFF6i7gzCRqldc/edit#heading=h.acod2js7mcnj)
>
>
> Ms. O'Neil continues,
>
>     (8:52) ".../These are private companies building private
>     algorithms for private ends/..."
>
>
> One of the advantages of doing this work in the W3C is to avoid this 
> kind of 'private company' bias. Will we be 'perfect' in that goal? 
> Likely not, because as Ms. O'Neil also noted, we don't live in a 
> perfect world. But the openness of the W3C in it's mission will 
> hopefully ensure that whatever we end up with will be *MORE* open than 
> a proprietary system or solution. But it still won't be perfect.
>
>     (9:43) ".../We know this, though, in aggregate/..."
>
> In aggregate? You mean, like "big data"? Funny how, when it supports 
> her opinion, big data isn't so bad after all...
>
>     (11:29) "/...We should look to the blind orchestra audition as an
>     example. ...the people who are listening have decided what's
>     important and they've decided what's not important.../"
>
> OK, so not so much then that big-data is "evil", or that algorithms 
> are biased, but rather we need to be mindful of bias and decide what's 
> important and what's not, so that we construct an algorithm (set of 
> tests and steps) that, if not completely eliminates bias, flattens it 
> significantly. That's a world of difference from saying that 
> algorithms are "Weapons of Math Destruction".
>
> (Additionally, I'll note that "experts", aka '/the people who are 
> listening' /decided what was and wasn't important, so they introduced 
> a bias, perhaps we can call it an informed bias, there as well: 
> seemingly a positive one that Ms. O'Neil's subsequent point that 
> female employment increased 5-fold proved. So bias, in-and-of-itself 
> isn't the real problem is it? _Rather, it's the awareness that bias 
> plays in the calculation of the data._)
>
>     (12:12) "/...What is the cost of that failure?/"
>
> Indeed. Everything - EVERYTHING - has a cost/benefit ratio, and at 
> scale regulators, lawyers, and their kind do risk analysis to weigh 
> that cost/benefit ratio.
>
> This is why I've proposed that - all other things being equal - the 
> greater the cost for success, the greater the value(*) in our scoring 
> algorithm. If it costs more to accommodate and test to ensure that 
> some users with some disabilities are not left behind, that needs to 
> be rewarded appropriately, otherwise the cost/benefit ratio doesn't 
> matter: the decision will be "Pay the fine - it's cheaper", and sadly, 
> I've personally lived through that specific mind-set at a previous - 
> un-named for obvious reasons - employment, where a senior compliance 
> person confided in me that they figured that the executives were 
> waiting for exactly that to happen before they went any further. So 
> this is a real thing too.
>
> (* One of the things I'm still struggling with is our unit of 
> measurement, so that it can be applied _proportionately_ across our 
> "rules" and "sets of steps" as part of the cost/benefit analysis.)
>
> Ms. O'Neil talks about recognizing what is and isn't important, and 
> focusing on that to ensure the algorithm is un-biased. OK, but before 
> we can determine if there is any bias, we also need to be thinking 
> about bias towards whom? All users in aggregate, or specific users 
> with specific needs (and if the latter, to what level of specificity?)
>
> There is no disagreement that currently, WCAG is today biased towards 
> people with cognitive disabilities, but before we can even make that 
> statement, we also have to recognize that people with cognitive 
> disabilities is not a monolithic block, even when they are a sub-set 
> of "all users". In real world terms however, they *are* a specific 
> sub-set, with needs and requirements that are different or enhanced 
> over the needs of others (that currently WCAG fails at). That's the 
> definition of bias right there: "/prejudice in favor of or against one 
> thing, person, or group compared with another/" (source: 
> https://diversity.ucsf.edu/resources/unconscious-bias) - *but to 
> recognize bias is to also recognize "groups". *For this reason, I 
> continue to believe that accounting for the needs of these different 
> groups will be a factor in the cost/benefit computation. And in fact, 
> we've already spoken and thought at length about how to ensure that 
> our new scoring system cannot be "gamed" to favor one group over 
> another, so this Task Force has already accepted that there are 
> different "groups" with differing needs.
>
> To state now that our scoring system should not account for different 
> user-groups in the scoring algorithm, while at the same time working 
> towards ensuring that different or specific user-groups are not 
> biased-against by our scoring system is a contradiction that I am 
> struggling with, and that I've not seen a valid response to.
>
> In the end, whatever we emerge with will need to be 
> *consistently* measurable, repeatable, report-able, and scale-able 
> across all sizes of sites and types of content. And like it or not, 
> all of our documentation to date includes "points", and/or "values" 
> which will need to be added (or subtracted, multiplied or otherwise 
> processed), so math *will* be involved. (And that's OK.)
>
> My $0.05 Cdn.
>
> JF
>
> On Wed, Jul 10, 2019 at 9:21 AM Jeanne Spellman 
> <jspellman@spellmanconsulting.com 
> <mailto:jspellman@spellmanconsulting.com>> wrote:
>
>     Cyborg asked me to send this around and asks that those working on
>     conformance watch it:
>
>     TED Task:  Cathy O'Neil - Weapons of Math Destruction
>
>     There is a short version and the full version
>
>     Short version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2u_eHHzRto
>
>     Full version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQHs8SA1qpk
>
>     I watched the short version and  thought it was well done. It is
>     about
>     various kinds of bias and not specific to PwD.   Her points about the
>     data of the past continuing a bias into the future are cautionary.
>       We
>     do not collect big data and our formulas are not sophisticated AI
>     algorithms, but the principles she cautions about apply, IMO.
>     There are
>     people in accessibility doing research on algorithmic bias against
>     PwD,
>     and there are broader lessons from the research that could apply
>     to our
>     work.
>
>
>
>
>
>
> -- 
> *​John Foliot* | Principal Accessibility Strategist | W3C AC 
> Representative
> Deque Systems - Accessibility for Good
> deque.com <http://deque.com/>
>
-- 
Judy Brewer
Director, Web Accessibility Initiative
at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
32 Vassar St. Room 385, MIT/CSAIL
Cambridge MA 02139 USA
www.w3.org/WAI/
Received on Wednesday, 10 July 2019 19:48:59 UTC

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