FAIRER: Fairness as Decision Rationale Alignment

Tianlin Li, Qing Guo, Aishan Liu, Mengnan Du, Zhiming Li, Yang Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Deep neural networks (DNNs) have made significant progress, but often suffer from fairness issues, as deep models typically show distinct accuracy differences among certain subgroups (e.g., males and females). Existing research addresses this critical issue by employing fairness-aware loss functions to constrain the last-layer outputs and directly regularize DNNs. Although the fairness of DNNs is improved, it is unclear how the trained network makes a fair prediction, which limits future fairness improvements. In this paper, we investigate fairness from the perspective of decision rationale and define the parameter parity score to characterize the fair decision process of networks by analyzing neuron influence in various subgroups. Extensive empirical studies show that the unfair issue could arise from the unaligned decision rationales of subgroups. Existing fairness regularization terms fail to achieve decision rationale alignment because they only constrain last-layer outputs while ignoring intermediate neuron alignment. To address the issue, we formulate the fairness as a new task, i.e., decision rationale alignment that requires DNNs' neurons to have consistent responses on subgroups at both intermediate processes and the final prediction. To make this idea practical during optimization, we relax the naive objective function and propose gradient-guided parity alignment, which encourages gradient-weighted consistency of neurons across subgroups. Extensive experiments on a variety of datasets show that our method can significantly enhance fairness while sustaining a high level of accuracy and outperforming other approaches by a wide margin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20182-20194
Number of pages13
JournalProceedings of Machine Learning Research
StatePublished - 2023
Event40th International Conference on Machine Learning, ICML 2023 - Honolulu, United States
Duration: Jul 23 2023Jul 29 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Software
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Statistics and Probability


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