Fairness Incentives for Myopic Agents

Sampath Kannan, Michael Kearns, Jamie Morgenstern, Mallesh Pai, Aaron Roth, Rakesh Vohra, Steven Wu

We consider settings in which we wish to incentivize myopic agents (such as Airbnb landlords, who may emphasize short-term profits and property safety) to treat arriving clients fairly, in order to prevent overall discrimination against individuals or groups. We model such settings in both classical and contextual bandit models in which the myopic agents maximize rewards according to current empirical averages, but are also amenable to exogenous payments that may cause them to alter their choices. Our notion of fairness asks that more qualified individuals are never (probabilistically) preferred over less qualified ones.

We investigate whether it is possible to design inexpensive subsidy or payment schemes for a principal to motivate myopic agents to play fairly in all or almost all rounds. When the principal has full information about the state of the myopic agents, we show it is possible to induce fair play on every round with a subsidy scheme of total cost o(T) (for the classic setting with k arms, O(sqrt{k^3 T}), and for the d-dimensional linear contextual setting O(dsqrt{k^3 T}). If the principal has much more limited information (as might often be the case for an external regulator or watchdog), and only observes the number of rounds in which members from each of the k groups were selected, but not the empirical estimates maintained by the myopic agent, the design of such a scheme becomes more complex. We show both positive and negative results in the classic and linear bandit settings by upper and lower bounding the cost of fair subsidy schemes.