"Why Should I Trust You?": Explaining the Predictions of Any Classifier

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Understanding why machine learning models behave the way they do empowers both system designers and end-users in many ways: in model selection, feature engineering, in order to trust and act upon the predictions, and in more intuitive user interfaces. Thus, interpretability has become a vital concern in machine learning, and work in the area of interpretable models has found renewed interest. In some applications, such models are as accurate as non-interpretable ones, and thus are preferred for their transparency. Even when they are not accurate, they may still be preferred when interpretability is of paramount importance. However, restricting machine learning to interpretable models is often a severe limitation. In this paper the authors argue for explaining machine learning predictions using model-agnostic approaches and propose LIME, a novel explanation technique that explains the predictions of any classifier in an interpretable and faithful manner, by learning an interpretable model locally around the prediction. They also propose a method to explain models by presenting representative individual predictions and their explanations in a non-redundant way, framing the task as a submodular optimization problem.

The authors demonstrate the flexibility of these methods by explaining different models for text (e.g. random forests) and image classification (e.g. convolutional neural networks). They show the utility of explanations via novel experiments, both simulated and with human subjects, on various scenarios that require trust: deciding if one should trust a prediction, choosing between models, improving an untrustworthy classifier, and identifying why a classifier should not be trusted.

In this paper, we propose providing explanations for individual predictions as a solution to the “trusting a prediction” problem, and selecting multiple such predictions (and explanations) as a solution to the “trusting the model” problem. Our main contributions are summarized as follows.

  • . LIME, an algorithm that can explain the predictions of any classifier or regressor in a faithful way, by approximating it locally with an interpretable model.
  • . SP-LIME, a method that selects a set of representative instances with explanations to address the “trusting the model” problem, via submodular optimization.
  • Comprehensive evaluation with simulated and human subjects, where we measure the impact of explanations on trust and associated tasks. In our experiments, non-experts using LIME are able to pick which classifier from a pair generalizes better in the real world. Further, they are able to greatly improve an untrustworthy classifier trained on 20 newsgroups, by doing feature engineering using LIME. We also show how understanding the predictions of a neural network on images helps practitioners know when and why they should not trust a model.

Figure 1: Explaining individual predictions. A model predicts that a patient has the flu, and LIME highlights the symptoms in the patient’s history that led to the prediction. Sneeze and headache are portrayed as contributing to the “flu” prediction, while “no fatigue” is evidence against it. With these, a doctor can make an informed decision about whether to trust the model’s prediction.

The Case for Explanations

By “explaining a prediction”, we mean presenting textual or visual artifacts that provide qualitative understanding of the relationship between the instance’s components (e.g. words in text, patches in an image) and the model’s prediction. We argue that explaining predictions is an important aspect in getting humans to trust and use machine learning effectively, if the explanations are faithful and intelligible. The process of explaining individual predictions is illustrated in Figure 1. It is clear that a doctor is much better positioned to make a decision with the help of a model if intelligible explanations are provided. In this case, an explanation is a small list of symptoms with relative weights – symptoms that either contribute to the prediction (in green) or are evidence against it (in red). Humans usually have prior knowledge about the application domain, which they can use to accept (trust) or reject a prediction if they understand the reasoning behind it. It has been observed, for example, that providing explanations can increase the acceptance of movie recommendations [12] and other automated systems [8].

There are several ways a model or its evaluation can go wrong. Data leakage, for example, defined as the unintentional leakage of signal into the training (and validation) data that would not appear when deployed [14], potentially increases accuracy. A challenging example cited by Kaufman et al. [14] is one where the patient ID was found to be heavily correlated with the target class in the training and validation data. This issue would be incredibly challenging to identify just by observing the predictions and the raw data, but much easier if explanations such as the one in Figure 1 are provided, as patient ID would be listed as an explanation for predictions. Another particularly hard to detect problem is dataset shift [5], where training data is different than test data (we give an example in the famous 20 newsgroups dataset later on). The insights given by explanations are particularly helpful in identifying what must be done to convert an untrustworthy model into a trustworthy one – for example, removing leaked data or changing the training data to avoid dataset shift.

Machine learning practitioners often have to select a model from a number of alternatives, requiring them to assess the relative trust between two or more models. In Figure Figure 2: Explaining individual predictions of competing classifiers trying to determine if a document is about “Christianity” or “Atheism”. The bar chart represents the importance given to the most relevant words, also highlighted in the text. Color indicates which class the word contributes to (green for “Christianity”, magenta for “Atheism”). 2, we show how individual prediction explanations can be used to select between models, in conjunction with accuracy. In this case, the algorithm with higher accuracy on the validation set is actually much worse, a fact that is easy to see when explanations are provided (again, due to human prior knowledge), but hard otherwise. Further, there is frequently a mismatch between the metrics that we can compute and optimize (e.g. accuracy) and the actual metrics of interest such as user engagement and retention. While we may not be able to measure such metrics, we have knowledge about how certain model behaviors can influence them. Therefore, a practitioner may wish to choose a less accurate model for content recommendation that does not place high importance in features related to “clickbait” articles (which may hurt user retention), even if exploiting such features increases the accuracy of the model in cross validation. We note that explanations are particularly useful in these (and other) scenarios if a method can produce them for any model, so that a variety of models can be compared.

Figure 2: Explaining individual predictions of competing classifiers trying to determine if a document is about “Christianity” or “Atheism”. The bar chart represents the importance given to the most relevant words, also highlighted in the text. Color indicates which class the word contributes to (green for “Christianity”, magenta for “Atheism”).

Desired Characteristics for Explainers

An essential criterion for explanations is that they must be interpretable, i.e., provide qualitative understanding between the input variables and the response. We note that interpretability must take into account the user’s limitations. Thus, a linear model [24], a gradient vector [2] or an additive model [6] may or may not be interpretable. For example, if hundreds or thousands of features significantly contribute to a prediction, it is not reasonable to expect any user to comprehend why the prediction was made, even if individual weights can be inspected. This requirement further implies that explanations should be easy to understand, which is not necessarily true of the features used by the model, and thus the “input variables” in the explanations may need to be different than the features. Finally, we note that the notion of interpretability also depends on the target audience. Machine learning practitioners may be able to interpret small Bayesian networks, but laymen may be more comfortable with a small number of weighted features as an explanation.

Another essential criterion is local fidelity. Although it is often impossible for an explanation to be completely faithful unless it is the complete description of the model itself, for an explanation to be meaningful it must at least be locally faithful, i.e. it must correspond to how the model behaves in the vicinity of the instance being predicted. We note that local fidelity does not imply global fidelity: features that are globally important may not be important in the local context, and vice versa. While global fidelity would imply local fidelity, identifying globally faithful explanations that are interpretable remains a challenge for complex models. While there are models that are inherently interpretable [6, 17, 26, 27], an explainer should be able to explain any model, and thus be model-agnostic (i.e. treat the original model as a black box). Apart from the fact that many state-ofthe-art classifiers are not currently interpretable, this also provides flexibility to explain future classifiers.

In addition to explaining predictions, providing a global perspective is important to ascertain trust in the model. As mentioned before, accuracy may often not be a suitable metric to evaluate the model, and thus we want to explain the model. Building upon the explanations for individual predictions, we select a few explanations to present to the user, such that they are representative of the model.