Techniques for Interpretable Machine Learning

Communications of the ACM 

Machine learning is progressing at an astounding rate, powered by complex models such as ensemble models and deep neural networks (DNNs). These models have a wide range of real-world applications, such as movie recommendations of Netflix, neural machine translation of Google, and speech recognition of Amazon Alexa. Despite the successes, machine learning has its own limitations and drawbacks. The most significant one is the lack of transparency behind their behaviors, which leaves users with little understanding of how particular decisions are made by these models. Consider, for instance, an advanced self-driving car equipped with various machine learning algorithms does not brake or decelerate when confronting a stopped firetruck. This unexpected behavior may frustrate and confuse users, making them wonder why. Even worse, the wrong decisions could cause severe consequences if the car is driving at highway speeds and might ultimately crash into the firetruck. The concerns about the black-box nature of complex models have hampered their further applications in our society, especially in those critical decision-making domains like self-driving cars. Interpretable machine learning would be an effective tool to mitigate these problems. It gives machine learning models the ability to explain or to present their behaviors in understandable terms to humans,10 which is called interpretability or explainability and we use them interchangeably in this article. Interpretability would be an indispensable part for machine learning models in order to better serve human beings and bring benefits to society. For end users, explanation will increase their trust and encourage them to adopt machine learning systems. From the perspective of machine learning system developers and researchers, the provided explanation can help them better understand the problem, the data and why a model might fail, and eventually increase the system safety. Thus, there is a growing interest among the academic and industrial community in interpreting machine learning models and gaining insights into their working mechanisms.

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