Keywords: fairness, gradient boosting, constrained optimization, tabular data
TL;DR: A novel fairness-aware method based on constrained optimization for Gradient Boosting models, that can match state-of-the-art fairness and performance while training 10x faster.
Abstract: Tabular data is prevalent in many high-stakes domains, such as financial services or public policy. Gradient Boosted Decision Trees (GBDT) are popular in these settings due to their scalability, performance, and low training cost. While fairness in these domains is a foremost concern, existing in-processing Fair ML methods are either incompatible with GBDT, or incur in significant performance losses while taking considerably longer to train. We present FairGBM, a dual ascent learning framework for training GBDT under fairness constraints, with little to no impact on predictive performance when compared to unconstrained GBDT. Since observational fairness metrics are non-differentiable, we propose smooth convex error rate proxies for common fairness criteria, enabling gradient-based optimization using a ``proxy-Lagrangian'' formulation. Our implementation shows an order of magnitude speedup in training time relative to related work, a pivotal aspect to foster the widespread adoption of FairGBM by real-world practitioners.
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