Data Representativity for Machine Learning and AI Systems

March, 2022


Data representativity is crucial when drawing inference from data through machine learning models. Scholars have increased focus on unraveling the bias and fairness in the models, also in relation to inherent biases in the input data. However, limited work exists on the representativity of samples (datasets) for appropriate inference in AI systems. This paper analyzes data representativity in scientific literature related to AI and sampling, and gives a brief overview of statistical sampling methodology from disciplines like sampling of physical materials, experimental design, survey analysis, and observational studies. Different notions of a 'representative sample' exist in past and present literature. In particular, the contrast between the notion of a representative sample in the sense of coverage of the input space, versus a representative sample as a miniature of the target population is of relevance when building AI systems. Using empirical demonstrations on US Census data, we demonstrate that the first is useful for providing equality and demographic parity, and is more robust to distribution shifts, whereas the latter notion is useful in situations where the purpose is to make historical inference or draw inference about the underlying population in general, or make better predictions for the majority in the underlying population. We propose a framework of questions for creating and documenting data, with data representativity in mind, as an addition to existing datasheets for datasets. Finally, we will also like to call for caution of implicit, in addition to explicit, use of a notion of data representativeness without specific clarification.

Resource Type: