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Monoculture and Simplicity in an Ecosystem of Algorithmic Decision-Making

Date and Time
Thursday, April 29, 2021 - 4:30pm to 5:30pm
Zoom Webinar (off campus)
Distinguished Colloquium Series Speaker
Sanjeev Arora

Click here for recording 

Jon Kleinberg
Algorithms are increasingly used to aid decision-making in high-stakes settings including employment, lending, healthcare, and the legal system. This development has led to an ecosystem of growing complexity in which algorithms and people interact around consequential decisions, often mediated by organizations and firms that may be in competition with one another.

We consider two related sets of issues that arise in this setting. First, concerns have been raised about the effects of algorithmic monoculture, in which multiple decision-makers all rely on the same algorithm. In a set of models drawing on minimal assumptions, we show that when competing decision-makers converge on the use of the same algorithm as part of a decision pipeline, the result can potentially be harmful for social welfare even when the algorithm is more accurate than any decision-maker acting on their own. Second, we consider some of the canonical ways in which data is simplified over the course of these decision-making pipelines, showing how this process of simplification can introduce sources of bias in ways that connect to principles from the psychology of stereotype formation.

The talk will be based on joint work with Sendhil Mullainathan and Manish Raghavan.

Jon Kleinberg is the Tisch University Professor in the Departments of Computer Science and Information Science at Cornell University. His research focuses on the interaction of algorithms and networks, the roles they play in large-scale social and information systems, and their broader societal implications. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, and the recipient of MacArthur, Packard, Simons, Sloan, and Vannevar Bush research fellowships, as well awards including the Harvey Prize, the Nevanlinna Prize, and the ACM Prize in Computing.

To request accommodations for a disability please contact Emily Lawrence, emilyl@cs.princeton.edu, at least one week prior to the event.

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