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SA: Accountability, Transparency and Interpretability

Ballroom 3 & 4

Moderator: Abhin Shah


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Tue 19 July 10:30 - 10:35 PDT

Meaningfully debugging model mistakes using conceptual counterfactual explanations

Abubakar Abid · Mert Yuksekgonul · James Zou

Understanding and explaining the mistakes made by trained models is critical to many machine learning objectives, such as improving robustness, addressing concept drift, and mitigating biases. However, this is often an ad hoc process that involves manually looking at the model's mistakes on many test samples and guessing at the underlying reasons for those incorrect predictions. In this paper, we propose a systematic approach, conceptual counterfactual explanations (CCE), that explains why a classifier makes a mistake on a particular test sample(s) in terms of human-understandable concepts (e.g. this zebra is misclassified as a dog because of faint stripes). We base CCE on two prior ideas: counterfactual explanations and concept activation vectors, and validate our approach on well-known pretrained models, showing that it explains the models' mistakes meaningfully. In addition, for new models trained on data with spurious correlations, CCE accurately identifies the spurious correlation as the cause of model mistakes from a single misclassified test sample. On two challenging medical applications, CCE generated useful insights, confirmed by clinicians, into biases and mistakes the model makes in real-world settings. The code for CCE is publicly available and can easily be applied to explain mistakes in new models.

Tue 19 July 10:35 - 10:40 PDT

Measuring the Effect of Training Data on Deep Learning Predictions via Randomized Experiments

Jinkun Lin · Anqi Zhang · Mathias Lécuyer · Jinyang Li · Aurojit Panda · Siddhartha Sen

We develop a new, principled algorithm for estimating the contribution of training data points to the behavior of a deep learning model, such as a specific prediction it makes. Our algorithm estimates the AME, a quantity that measures the expected (average) marginal effect of adding a data point to a subset of the training data, sampled from a given distribution. When subsets are sampled from the uniform distribution, the AME reduces to the well-known Shapley value. Our approach is inspired by causal inference and randomized experiments: we sample different subsets of the training data to train multiple submodels, and evaluate each submodel's behavior. We then use a LASSO regression to jointly estimate the AME of each data point, based on the subset compositions. Under sparsity assumptions ($k \ll N$ datapoints have large AME), our estimator requires only $O(k\log N)$ randomized submodel trainings, improving upon the best prior Shapley value estimators.

Tue 19 July 10:40 - 10:45 PDT

Robust Counterfactual Explanations for Tree-Based Ensembles

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

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.

Tue 19 July 10:45 - 10:50 PDT

A Rigorous Study of Integrated Gradients Method and Extensions to Internal Neuron Attributions

Daniel Lundstrom · Tianjian Huang · Meisam Razaviyayn

As deep learning (DL) efficacy grows, concerns for poor model explainability grow also. Attribution methods address the issue of explainability by quantifying the importance of an input feature for a model prediction. Among various methods, Integrated Gradients (IG) sets itself apart by claiming other methods failed to satisfy desirable axioms, while IG and methods like it uniquely satisfy said axioms. This paper comments on fundamental aspects of IG and its applications/extensions: 1) We identify key differences between IG function spaces and the supporting literature’s function spaces which problematize previous claims of IG uniqueness. We show that with the introduction of an additional axiom, non-decreasing positivity, the uniqueness claims can be established. 2) We address the question of input sensitivity by identifying function classes where IG is/is not Lipschitz in the attributed input. 3) We show that axioms for single-baseline methods have analogous properties for methods with probability distribution baselines. 4) We introduce a computationally efficient method of identifying internal neurons that contribute to specified regions of an IG attribution map. Finally, we present experimental results validating this method.

Tue 19 July 10:50 - 10:55 PDT

Estimating and Penalizing Induced Preference Shifts in Recommender Systems

Micah Carroll · Anca Dragan · Stuart Russell · Dylan Hadfield-Menell

The content that a recommender system (RS) shows to users influences them. Therefore, when choosing a recommender to deploy, one is implicitly also choosing to induce specific internal states in users. Even more, systems trained via long-horizon optimization will have direct incentives to manipulate users, e.g. shift their preferences so they are easier to satisfy. We focus on induced preference shifts in users. We argue that – before deployment – system designers should: estimate the shifts a recommender would induce; evaluate whether such shifts would be undesirable; and perhaps even actively optimize to avoid problematic shifts. These steps involve two challenging ingredients: estimation requires anticipating how hypothetical policies would influence user preferences if deployed – we do this by using historical user interaction data to train a predictive user model which implicitly contains their preference dynamics;evaluation and optimization additionally require metrics to assess whether such influences are manipulative or otherwise unwanted – we use the notion of "safe shifts", that define a trust region within which behavior is safe: for instance, the natural way in which users would shift without interference from the system could be deemed "safe". In simulated experiments, we show that our learned preference dynamics model is effective in estimating user preferences and how they would respond to new recommenders. Additionally, we show that recommenders that optimize for staying in the trust region can avoid manipulative behaviors while still generating engagement.

Tue 19 July 10:55 - 11:00 PDT

Framework for Evaluating Faithfulness of Local Explanations

Sanjoy Dasgupta · Nave Frost · Michal Moshkovitz

We study the faithfulness of an explanation system to the underlying prediction model. We show that this can be captured by two properties, consistency and sufficiency, and introduce quantitative measures of the extent to which these hold. Interestingly, these measures depend on the test-time data distribution.For a variety of existing explanation systems, such as anchors, we analytically study these quantities. We also provide estimators and sample complexity bounds for empirically determining the faithfulness of black-box explanation systems. Finally, we experimentally validate the new properties and estimators.

Tue 19 July 11:00 - 11:05 PDT

A Consistent and Efficient Evaluation Strategy for Attribution Methods

Yao Rong · Tobias Leemann · Vadim Borisov · Gjergji Kasneci · Enkelejda Kasneci

With a variety of local feature attribution methods being proposed in recent years, follow-up work suggested several evaluation strategies. To assess the attribution quality across different attribution techniques, the most popular among these evaluation strategies in the image domain use pixel perturbations. However, recent advances discovered that different evaluation strategies produce conflicting rankings of attribution methods and can be prohibitively expensive to compute. In this work, we present an information-theoretic analysis of evaluation strategies based on pixel perturbations. Our findings reveal that the results are strongly affected by information leakage through the shape of the removed pixels as opposed to their actual values. Using our theoretical insights, we propose a novel evaluation framework termed Remove and Debias (ROAD) which offers two contributions: First, it mitigates the impact of the confounders, which entails higher consistency among evaluation strategies. Second, ROAD does not require the computationally expensive retraining step and saves up to 99% in computational costs compared to the state-of-the-art. We release our source code at

Tue 19 July 11:05 - 11:25 PDT

Training Characteristic Functions with Reinforcement Learning: XAI-methods play Connect Four

Stephan Wäldchen · Sebastian Pokutta · Felix Huber

Characteristic functions (from cooperative game theory) are able to evaluate partial inputs and form the basis for attribution methods like Shapley values. These attribution methods allow us to measure how important each input component is for the function output---one of the goals of explainable AI (XAI).Given a standard classifier function, it is unclear how partial input should be realised.Instead, most XAI-methods for black-box classifiers like neural networks consider counterfactual inputs that generally lie off-manifold, which makes them hard to evaluate and easy to manipulate.We propose a setup to directly train characteristic functions in the form of neural networks to play simple two-player games. We apply this to the game of Connect Four by randomly hiding colour information from our agents during training. This has three advantages for comparing XAI-methods: It alleviates the ambiguity about how to realise partial input, makes off-manifold evaluation unnecessary and allows us to compare the methods by letting them play against each other.

Tue 19 July 11:25 - 11:30 PDT

Label-Descriptive Patterns and Their Application to Characterizing Classification Errors

Michael Hedderich · Jonas Fischer · Dietrich Klakow · Jilles Vreeken

State-of-the-art deep learning methods achieve human-like performance on many tasks, but make errors nevertheless. Characterizing these errors in easily interpretable terms gives insight into whether a classifier is prone to making systematic errors, but also gives a way to act and improve the classifier. We propose to discover those feature-value combinations (i.e., patterns) that strongly correlate with correct resp. erroneous predictions to obtain a global and interpretable description for arbitrary classifiers. We show this is an instance of the more general label description problem, which we formulate in terms of the Minimum Description Length principle. To discover a good pattern set, we develop the efficient Premise algorithm. Through an extensive set of experiments we show it performs very well in practice on both synthetic and real-world data. Unlike existing solutions, it ably recovers ground truth patterns, even on highly imbalanced data over many features. Through two case studies on Visual Question Answering and Named Entity Recognition, we confirm that Premise gives clear and actionable insight into the systematic errors made by modern NLP classifiers.

Tue 19 July 11:30 - 11:35 PDT

XAI for Transformers: Better Explanations through Conservative Propagation

Ameen Ali · Thomas Schnake · Oliver Eberle · Grégoire Montavon · Klaus-robert Mueller · Lior Wolf

Transformers have become an important workhorse of machine learning, with numerous applications. This necessitates the development of reliable methods for increasing their transparency. Multiple interpretability methods, often based on gradient information, have been proposed. We show that the gradient in a Transformer reflects the function only locally, and thus fails to reliably identify the contribution of input features to the prediction. We identify Attention Heads and LayerNorm as main reasons for such unreliable explanations and propose a more stable way for propagation through these layers. Our proposal, which can be seen as a proper extension of the well-established LRP method to Transformers, is shown both theoretically and empirically to overcome the deficiency of a simple gradient-based approach, and achieves state-of-the-art explanation performance on a broad range of Transformer models and datasets.

Tue 19 July 11:35 - 11:40 PDT

Quantification and Analysis of Layer-wise and Pixel-wise Information Discarding

Haotian Ma · Hao Zhang · Fan Zhou · Yinqing Zhang · Quanshi Zhang

This paper presents a method to explain how the information of each input variable is gradually discarded during the forward propagation in a deep neural network (DNN), which provides new perspectives to explain DNNs. We define two types of entropy-based metrics, i.e. (1) the discarding of pixel-wise information used in the forward propagation, and (2) the uncertainty of the input reconstruction, to measure input information contained by a specific layer from two perspectives. Unlike previous attribution metrics, the proposed metrics ensure the fairness of comparisons between different layers of different DNNs. We can use these metrics to analyze the efficiency of information processing in DNNs, which exhibits strong connections to the performance of DNNs. We analyze information discarding in apixel-wise manner, which is different from the information bottleneck theory measuring feature information w.r.t. the sample distribution. Experiments have shown the effectiveness of our metrics in analyzing classic DNNs and explaining existing deep-learning techniques. The code is available at

Tue 19 July 11:40 - 11:45 PDT

Interpretable Off-Policy Learning via Hyperbox Search

Daniel Tschernutter · Tobias Hatt · Stefan Feuerriegel

Personalized treatment decisions have become an integral part of modern medicine. Thereby, the aim is to make treatment decisions based on individual patient characteristics. Numerous methods have been developed for learning such policies from observational data that achieve the best outcome across a certain policy class. Yet these methods are rarely interpretable. However, interpretability is often a prerequisite for policy learning in clinical practice. In this paper, we propose an algorithm for interpretable off-policy learning via hyperbox search. In particular, our policies can be represented in disjunctive normal form (i.e., OR-of-ANDs) and are thus intelligible. We prove a universal approximation theorem that shows that our policy class is flexible enough to approximate any measurable function arbitrarily well. For optimization, we develop a tailored column generation procedure within a branch-and-bound framework. Using a simulation study, we demonstrate that our algorithm outperforms state-of-the-art methods from interpretable off-policy learning in terms of regret. Using real-word clinical data, we perform a user study with actual clinical experts, who rate our policies as highly interpretable.

Tue 19 July 11:45 - 11:50 PDT

Neuron Dependency Graphs: A Causal Abstraction of Neural Networks

Yaojie Hu · Jin Tian

We discover that neural networks exhibit approximate logical dependencies among neurons, and we introduce Neuron Dependency Graphs (NDG) that extract and present them as directed graphs. In an NDG, each node corresponds to the boolean activation value of a neuron, and each edge models an approximate logical implication from one node to another. We show that the logical dependencies extracted from the training dataset generalize well to the test set. In addition to providing symbolic explanations to the neural network's internal structure, NDGs can represent a Structural Causal Model. We empirically show that an NDG is a causal abstraction of the corresponding neural network that "unfolds" the same way under causal interventions using the theory by Geiger et al. (2021). Code is available at

Tue 19 July 11:50 - 11:55 PDT

On the Adversarial Robustness of Causal Algorithmic Recourse

Ricardo Dominguez-Olmedo · Amir Karimi · Bernhard Schölkopf

Algorithmic recourse seeks to provide actionable recommendations for individuals to overcome unfavorable classification outcomes from automated decision-making systems. Recourse recommendations should ideally be robust to reasonably small uncertainty in the features of the individual seeking recourse. In this work, we formulate the adversarially robust recourse problem and show that recourse methods that offer minimally costly recourse fail to be robust. We then present methods for generating adversarially robust recourse for linear and for differentiable classifiers. Finally, we show that regularizing the decision-making classifier to behave locally linearly and to rely more strongly on actionable features facilitates the existence of adversarially robust recourse.

Tue 19 July 11:55 - 12:00 PDT

Knowledge-Grounded Self-Rationalization via Extractive and Natural Language Explanations

Bodhisattwa Prasad Majumder · Oana-Maria Camburu · Thomas Lukasiewicz · Julian McAuley

Models that generate extractive rationales (i.e., subsets of features) or natural language explanations (NLEs) for their predictions are important for explainable AI. While an extractive rationale provides a quick view of the features most responsible for a prediction, an NLE allows for a comprehensive description of the decision-making process behind a prediction. However, current models that generate the best extractive rationales or NLEs often fall behind the state-of-the-art (SOTA) in terms of task performance. In this work, we bridge this gap by introducing RExC, a self-rationalizing framework that grounds its predictions and two complementary types of explanations (NLEs and extractive rationales) in background knowledge. Our framework improves over previous methods by: (i) reaching SOTA task performance while also providing explanations, (ii) providing two types of explanations, while existing models usually provide only one type, and (iii) beating by a large margin the previous SOTA in terms of quality of both types of explanations. Furthermore, a perturbation analysis in RExC shows a high degree of association between explanations and predictions, a necessary property of faithful explanations.