Algorithms & Inequality

Algorithmic tools have an immense impact on every aspect of our lives, from decision-making in education to health and criminal justice systems. While algorithms are poised to transform many domains, recent discussions have also brought to light a disconnect between individuals who introduce and deploy algorithmically-informed solutions and those who regulate policies surrounding how these solutions are used. This disconnect manifests in a number of ways. On the one hand, it can lead to the implementation of interventions that fail to take key societal issues -- such as discrimination and segregation -- into account, thereby exacerbating and even creating new inequalities. On the other hand, there remain missed opportunities to use algorithmic-insights in service of historically marginalized communities.

In this course, we will explore this intricate interface between algorithms and inequality with a focus on (a) how algorithms can help us better understand, measure, and mitigate inequality as well as (b) when algorithms generate or worsen inequality. We will consider these topics through readings from numerous fields, with the bulk of the papers covering algorithmic and computational contributions, but with additional reading including empirical studies, policy papers, and social work research. This course will be reading-heavy and discussion-based. It will be open to graduate (masters, professional, and doctoral) students in EECS, as well as economics, education, law, mathematics, operations research, public health, public policy, social work, sociology, and other closely-related fields. The course will also host discussions with domain experts (researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners) from various fields to ground our readings.

Prerequisites: This course is open to all graduate students (masters, professional, and doctoral) and will not have any formal prerequisites. However, students are expected to have some interest in both algorithmic techniques and the study of inequality, as well as enthusiasm for exploring related topics in other fields.

Enrollment: If you are interested in this course, please fill out this admissions survey, which will be used for all enrollment decisions. This will be a small, discussion-based course and enrollment decisions are made based on students' responses to this survey as well as other considerations related to the composition of the course. Priority will be given to students who fill out the survey by August 24, 2021 at 2 PM PT. Students are expected to have read this paper on Roles for Computing in Social Change ahead of the first lecture.

Time: Wednesday and Fridays 11 AM - 12:30 PM PT

Instructor: Professor Rediet Abebe

Syllabus: forthcoming