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Causal Interpretability for Machine Learning -- Problems, Methods and Evaluation

arXiv.org Machine Learning

Machine learning models have had discernible achievements in a myriad of applications. However, most of these models are black-boxes, and it is obscure how the decisions are made by them. This makes the models unreliable and untrustworthy. To provide insights into the decision making processes of these models, a variety of traditional interpretable models have been proposed. Moreover, to generate more human-friendly explanations, recent work on interpretability tries to answer questions related to causality such as "Why does this model makes such decisions?" or "Was it a specific feature that caused the decision made by the model?". In this work, models that aim to answer causal questions are referred to as causal interpretable models. The existing surveys have covered concepts and methodologies of traditional interpretability. In this work, we present a comprehensive survey on causal interpretable models from the aspects of the problems and methods. In addition, this survey provides in-depth insights into the existing evaluation metrics for measuring interpretability, which can help practitioners understand for what scenarios each evaluation metric is suitable.


Instance-wise Causal Feature Selection for Model Interpretation

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

We formulate a causal extension to the recently introduced paradigm of instance-wise feature selection to explain black-box visual classifiers. Our method selects a subset of input features that has the greatest causal effect on the models output. We quantify the causal influence of a subset of features by the Relative Entropy Distance measure. Under certain assumptions this is equivalent to the conditional mutual information between the selected subset and the output variable. The resulting causal selections are sparser and cover salient objects in the scene. We show the efficacy of our approach on multiple vision datasets by measuring the post-hoc accuracy and Average Causal Effect of selected features on the models output.


Causal Effect Inference with Deep Latent-Variable Models

Neural Information Processing Systems

Learning individual-level causal effects from observational data, such as inferring the most effective medication for a specific patient, is a problem of growing importance for policy makers. The most important aspect of inferring causal effects from observational data is the handling of confounders, factors that affect both an intervention and its outcome. A carefully designed observational study attempts to measure all important confounders. However, even if one does not have direct access to all confounders, there may exist noisy and uncertain measurement of proxies for confounders. We build on recent advances in latent variable modeling to simultaneously estimate the unknown latent space summarizing the confounders and the causal effect. Our method is based on Variational Autoencoders (VAE) which follow the causal structure of inference with proxies. We show our method is significantly more robust than existing methods, and matches the state-of-the-art on previous benchmarks focused on individual treatment effects.


Causal Bias Quantification for Continuous Treatment

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

In this work we develop a novel characterization of marginal causal effect and causal bias in the continuous treatment setting. We show they can be expressed as an expectation with respect to a conditional probability distribution, which can be estimated via standard statistical and probabilistic methods. All terms in the expectations can be computed via automatic differentiation, also for highly non-linear models. We further develop a new complete criterion for identifiability of causal effects via covariate adjustment, showing the bias equals zero if the criterion is met. We study the effectiveness of our framework in three different scenarios: linear models under confounding, overcontrol and endogenous selection bias; a non-linear model where full identifiability cannot be achieved because of missing data; a simulated medical study of statins and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.


Preserving Causal Constraints in Counterfactual Explanations for Machine Learning Classifiers

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Explaining the output of a complex machine learning (ML) model often requires approximation using a simpler model. To construct interpretable explanations that are also consistent with the original ML model, counterfactual examples --- showing how the model's output changes with small perturbations to the input --- have been proposed. This paper extends the work in counterfactual explanations by addressing the challenge of feasibility of such examples. For explanations of ML models in critical domains such as healthcare, finance, etc, counterfactual examples are useful for an end-user only to the extent that perturbation of feature inputs is feasible in the real world. We formulate the problem of feasibility as preserving causal relationships among input features and present a method that uses (partial) structural causal models to generate actionable counterfactuals. When feasibility constraints may not be easily expressed, we propose an alternative method that optimizes for feasibility as people interact with its output and provide oracle-like feedback. Our experiments on a Bayesian network and the widely used "Adult" dataset show that our proposed methods can generate counterfactual explanations that satisfy feasibility constraints.