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Bridging Fairness and Environmental Sustainability in Natural Language Processing

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Hessenthaler, Marius, Emma Strubell, Dirk Hovy, and Anne Lauscher. 2022. “Bridging Fairness and Environmental Sustainability in Natural Language Processing.” arXiv.

Fairness and environmental impact are important research directions for the sustainable development of artificial intelligence. However, while each topic is an active research area in natural language processing (NLP), there is a surprising lack of research on the interplay between the two fields. This lacuna is highly problematic, since there is increasing evidence that an exclusive focus on fairness can actually hinder environmental sustainability, and vice versa. In this work, we shed light on this crucial intersection in NLP by (1) investigating the efficiency of current fairness approaches through surveying example methods for reducing unfair stereotypical bias from the literature, and (2) evaluating a common technique to reduce energy consumption (and thus environmental impact) of English NLP models, knowledge distillation (KD), for its impact on fairness. In this case study, we evaluate the effect of important KD factors, including layer and dimensionality reduction, with respect to: (a) performance on the distillation task (natural language inference and semantic similarity prediction), and (b) multiple measures and dimensions of stereotypical bias (e.g., gender bias measured via the Word Embedding Association Test). Our results lead us to clarify current assumptions regarding the effect of KD on unfair bias: contrary to other findings, we show that KD can actually decrease model fairness.

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