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Picking on the Same Person: Does Algorithmic Monoculture lead to Outcome Homogenization?
Rishi Bommasani · Kathleen A. Creel · Ananya Kumar · Dan Jurafsky · Percy Liang

Wed Nov 30 09:00 AM -- 11:00 AM (PST) @ Hall J #927

As the scope of machine learning broadens, we observe a recurring theme of algorithmic monoculture: the same systems, or systems that share components (e.g. datasets, models), are deployed by multiple decision-makers. While sharing offers advantages like amortizing effort, it also has risks. We introduce and formalize one such risk, outcome homogenization: the extent to which particular individuals or groups experience the same outcomes across different deployments. If the same individuals or groups exclusively experience undesirable outcomes, this may institutionalize systemic exclusion and reinscribe social hierarchy. We relate algorithmic monoculture and outcome homogenization by proposing the component sharing hypothesis: if algorithmic systems are increasingly built on the same data or models, then they will increasingly homogenize outcomes. We test this hypothesis on algorithmic fairness benchmarks, demonstrating that increased data-sharing reliably exacerbates homogenization and individual-level effects generally exceed group-level effects. Further, given the current regime in AI of foundation models, i.e. pretrained models that can be adapted to myriad downstream tasks, we test whether model-sharing homogenizes outcomes across tasks. We observe mixed results: we find that for both vision and language settings, the specific methods for adapting a foundation model significantly influence the degree of outcome homogenization. We also identify societal challenges that inhibit the measurement, diagnosis, and rectification of outcome homogenization in deployed machine learning systems.

Author Information

Rishi Bommasani (Stanford University)

CS PhD advised by Percy Liang and Dan Jurafsky

Kathleen A. Creel (Northeastern University)
Ananya Kumar (Stanford University)
Dan Jurafsky (Stanford University)
Percy Liang (Stanford University)
Percy Liang

Percy Liang is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University (B.S. from MIT, 2004; Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, 2011). His research spans machine learning and natural language processing, with the goal of developing trustworthy agents that can communicate effectively with people and improve over time through interaction. Specific topics include question answering, dialogue, program induction, interactive learning, and reliable machine learning. His awards include the IJCAI Computers and Thought Award (2016), an NSF CAREER Award (2016), a Sloan Research Fellowship (2015), and a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship (2014).

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