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Robust Counterfactual Explanations for Tree-Based Ensembles

Sanghamitra Dutta · Jason Long · Saumitra Mishra · Cecilia Tilli · Daniele Magazzeni

Hall E #929

Keywords: [ SA: Trustworthy Machine Learning ] [ SA: Everything Else ] [ SA: Accountability, Transparency and Interpretability ]


Counterfactual explanations inform ways to achieve a desired outcome from a machine learning model. However, such explanations are not robust to certain real-world changes in the underlying model (e.g., retraining the model, changing hyperparameters, etc.), questioning their reliability in several applications, e.g., credit lending. In this work, we propose a novel strategy - that we call RobX - to generate robust counterfactuals for tree-based ensembles, e.g., XGBoost. Tree-based ensembles pose additional challenges in robust counterfactual generation, e.g., they have a non-smooth and non-differentiable objective function, and they can change a lot in the parameter space under retraining on very similar data. We first introduce a novel metric - that we call Counterfactual Stability - that attempts to quantify how robust a counterfactual is going to be to model changes under retraining, and comes with desirable theoretical properties. Our proposed strategy RobX works with any counterfactual generation method (base method) and searches for robust counterfactuals by iteratively refining the counterfactual generated by the base method using our metric Counterfactual Stability. We compare the performance of RobX with popular counterfactual generation methods (for tree-based ensembles) across benchmark datasets. The results demonstrate that our strategy generates counterfactuals that are significantly more robust (nearly 100% validity after actual model changes) and also realistic (in terms of local outlier factor) over existing state-of-the-art methods.

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