Skip to yearly menu bar Skip to main content


Ecosystem-level Analysis of Deployed Machine Learning Reveals Homogeneous Outcomes

Connor Toups · Rishi Bommasani · Kathleen Creel · Sarah Bana · Dan Jurafsky · Percy Liang

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #1920


Machine learning is traditionally studied at the model level: researchers measure and improve the accuracy, robustness, bias, efficiency, and other dimensions of specific models. In practice, however, the societal impact of any machine learning model is partially determined by the context into which it is deployed. To capture this, we introduce ecosystem-level analysis: rather than analyzing a single model, we consider the collection of models that are deployed in a given context. For example, ecosystem-level analysis in hiring recognizes that a job candidate’s outcomes are determined not only by a single hiring algorithm or firm but instead by the collective decisions of all the firms to which the candidate applied. Across three modalities (text, images, speech) and 11 datasets, we establish a clear trend: deployed machine learning is prone to systemic failure, meaning some users are exclusively misclassified by all models available. Even when individual models improve at the population level over time, we find these improvements rarely reduce the prevalence of systemic failure. Instead, the benefits of these improvements predominantly accrue to individuals who are already correctly classified by other models. In light of these trends, we analyze medical imaging for dermatology, a setting where the costs of systemic failure are especially high. While traditional analyses reveal that both models and humans exhibit racial performance disparities, ecosystem-level analysis reveals new forms of racial disparity in model predictions that do not present in human predictions. These examples demonstrate that ecosystem-level analysis has unique strengths in characterizing the societal impact of machine learning.

Chat is not available.