Data and Algorithm Ethics

November 2017 - November 2020
69500 €
Funding organization: 

Fondazione Bruno Kessler

Person(s) in charge: 
Executive summary: 

The main goal of this research is to investigate the impact of data revolution in our society, combining data analytics techniques with an epistemological approach from social sciences and humanities.


We are living in an historical age in which automated decision making are rapidly spreading in nowadays economies transforming several domains of our daily life. Over the last few decades, such tools have become progressively complex by exploiting an ever-growing amount of personal and proxy data through increasingly sophisticated massive profiling techniques. Especially, ranking systems are one of the most relevant technologies in the transformation we are witnessing and there is almost nothing today that is not expressed in a ranking form: people, products, jobs, opinions. Ranking is therefore one of the predominant forms by which both online and offline software systems present results in a wide variety of domains ranging from web search engines to recommendation systems. Despite they have been widely employed since decades in Information Retrieval domain, they have recently come back at the cutting edge thanks to the explosive growth of computational power and data availability. The main task of ranking systems is to find an allocation of elements to each of the n positions so that the total value obtained is maximized. The success of an element and its exposure are strongly dependent by its position; a number of recent researches have shown that ranking algorithms whose only task is to maximize utility do not necessarily lead to fair or desirable scenarios, causing forms of algorithmic biases that in some cases can lead to serious social implications. Web search engine results that inadvertently promote stereotypes through over-representation of sensitive attributes such as gender, ethnicity and age are an example. For this reason, the study of fairness and bias in ranking algorithms is a fundamental task in this transformation era.


In recent years, several formal definitions of fairness have been suggested by the automated-system community, especially by the machine learning one. Despite the increasing influence of rankings on our society and economy, fairness in ranking systems is still a poorly explored ground. The aim of the research is to contribute to the debate on fairness in machine learning, and in particular in ranking systems domain. Main goals are briefly summarized below: i) discussing the impact that recent proposed fairness formalizations may have on societies; ii) proposing new solutions to recalibrates ranking outcomes subject to fairness constraints; iii) studying the trade-off among fairness and traditional ranking systems utility.


The main achievements of this PhD research project are briefly resumed:
Journal Papers:
(i) Antonio Vetrò, Antonio Santangelo, Elena Beretta, Juan Carlos De Martin. (2019) AI: from rational agents to socially responsible agents, Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance,
Conference Proceedings:
(ii) Elena Beretta, Antonio Santangelo, Antonio Vetrò, Bruno Lepri, Juan Carlos De Martin. (2019) The Invisible Power of Fairness. How Machine Learning Shapes Democracy. In: Meurs MJ., Rudzicz F. (eds) Advances in Artificial Intelligence. Canadian AI 2019. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 11489. Springer, Cham.
(iii) Elena Beretta, Antonio Vetrò, Bruno Lepri, Juan Carlos De Martin. (2018) Ethical and Socially Aware Data Labels, Information Management and Big Data. SIM-Big 2018. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 898, pp. 320-327, Springer, Cham.
Working Paper:
Nexa Center, Fairness e Machine Learning, December 2018, Working paper nr 2/2018.

Related Publications:
Mecati, M., Cannavò F.E., Vetrò A., Torchiano, M.
September 2020
EGOV2020 – IFIP EGOV-CeDEM-EPART 2020, Linköping University (Sweden), August 31 - September 2, 2020, pp. 332-344. egov-2020 (BEST PAPER AWARD)