Trusted AI blog series Blog 3 BKG

Trusted AI Cornerstones: Ethics Overview

July 8, 2021
· 4 min read

In two recent blog posts, I’ve talked about two cornerstones of trusted AI: evaluating model performance and setting up proper operational oversight. In this post, I’ll review the third and perhaps most important step: creating models that are ethical and principled. 

When it comes to ethical AI, high-minded principles get you only so far. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. AI systems and the data they use can cross national borders and diverse cultures. They can become part of a web of complex social interactions that require the perspective of multiple stakeholders to fully understand. So how do you navigate AI pragmatically but still ethically? You have to think about privacy, bias and fairness, interpretability and transparency, and ultimately what the impact of a system will be. 

Best Practices for Ensuring Privacy 

Because consumer privacy is of the utmost importance, your data team must be aware of data that might contain personally identifiable information (PII), even if it’s as simple as an email address. This data should not be used to train a machine learning model. DataRobot has automatic PII detection available for on-premise installations. 

You must also understand the singular risks that AI poses to privacy. For example, consumer purchasing behavior can be mined for sensitive information about the health, housing, employment, and even the marital status of customers. This information might help with ad targeting, but at a substantial risk of backlash. 

Similarly, AI systems can be subject to attacks designed to find information about your enterprise or customers. For example, a model inversion attack aims to use white-box information on a model to reconstruct the data used to train a model.  

Fair and Unbiased AI

Algorithmic bias is discussed a lot in AI. It is a tough topic to navigate. We must not only deal with the mathematically complex task of reducing bias in the data, but also with the challenge of determining what’s fair. Fairness is situationally dependent. It’s a reflection of your values, ethics, and legal regulations.  

Training data is the largest source of bias in an AI system. It might contain historical patterns of bias. Bias might also be a result of data collection or sampling methods that misrepresent ground truth. Ultimately, machine learning learns from data, but that data comes from us—our decisions and systems. 

In DataRobot, the Interpretability and Transparency Explainability, which can be broken down into interpretability and transparency, is one of the most powerful ways to build trust between a user and a model. Whether you’re making the case for sending a model to production or rationalizing an individual recommendation of your AI system, being able to explain how the model makes decisions is an asset.  

Many insights can be used to achieve model explainability. Variable-importance techniques work at the level of the model’s overall decisions and score the aggregated predictive power of each feature. At a more granular level, partial-dependence plots can be used to illustrate how a given feature impacts the model’s prediction. The most detailed tools operate at the level of an individual prediction. Prediction explanations identify the most impactful individual factors for a single prediction. DataRobot supports two common methods of calculating prediction explanations: XEMP and SHAP. 

AI That Supports Your Values

From one perspective, AI systems are easier to work with than people. When you want to fill an open position at your company, you look for someone who has the expected skills and is a good fit for your company culture. But it is not always easy to see these traits in someone you’re meeting for the first time. 

AI, on the other hand, implements ethics with hard quantities you can measure and behaviors and practices you can control or override. With the right modeling, you can have even more stringent requirements than you would of any employee across the dimensions of trust outlined in these blog posts. The challenge is to think ahead, identify the desired behavior of a system that reflects your values, and then take proactive steps to guarantee it. 

An impact assessment is a powerful tool for your organization because it brings all AI stakeholders, not just your data science team and end business users, to the table. 

Conduct the first impact assessment before modeling begins, after you’ve identified and evaluated initial data sources. Revisit the process at different stages of the process, such as model evaluation, production, and after the model is deployed. Check in on system behavior against your original understanding of a use case, and as it evolves, regularly, at the cadence of any other system-level review of your business.

We establish trust all the time in our interactions with people. We know how to  recognize the importance of eye contact or a firm handshake. Some of us establish trust through punctuality or our professional credentials. 

The trust signals found in AI aren’t eye contact or a diploma on the wall, but they serve the same purpose. By understanding how to build trust in AI, you can begin to find maximum value in its day-to-day use. 

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About the author
Sarah Khatry
Sarah Khatry

Applied Data Scientist, DataRobot

Sarah is an Applied Data Scientist on the Trusted AI team at DataRobot. Her work focuses on the ethical use of AI, particularly the creation of tools, frameworks, and approaches to support responsible but pragmatic AI stewardship, and the advancement of thought leadership and education on AI ethics.

Meet Sarah Khatry
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