One Explanation Does Not Fit All The Promise of Interactive Explanations for Machine Learning Transparency

Kacper Sokol, Peter Flach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)
210 Downloads (Pure)


The need for transparency of predictive systems based on Machine Learning algorithms arises as a consequence of their ever-increasing proliferation in the industry. Whenever black-box algorithmic predictions influence human affairs, the inner workings of these algorithms should be scrutinised and their decisions explained to the relevant stakeholders, including the system engineers, the system’s operators and the individuals whose case is being decided. While a variety of interpretability and explainability methods is available, none of them is a panacea that can satisfy all diverse expectations and competing objectives that might be required by the parties involved. We address this challenge in this paper by discussing the promises of Interactive Machine Learning for improved transparency of black-box systems using the example of contrastive explanations—a state-of-the-art approach to Interpretable Machine Learning. Specifically, we show how to personalise counterfactual explanations by interactively adjusting their conditional statements and extract additional explanations by asking follow-up “What if?” questions. Our experience in building, deploying and presenting this type of system allowed us to list desired properties as well as potential limitations, which can be used to guide the development of interactive explainers. While customising the medium of interaction, i.e., the user interface comprising of various communication channels, may give an impression of personalisation, we argue that adjusting the explanation itself and its content is more important. To this end, properties such as breadth, scope, context, purpose and target of the explanation have to be considered, in addition to explicitly informing the explainee about its limitations and caveats. Furthermore, we discuss the challenges of mirroring the explainee’s mental model, which is the main building block of intelligible human–machine interactions. We also deliberate on the risks of allowing the explainee to freely manipulate the explanations and thereby extracting information about the underlying predictive model, which might be leveraged by malicious actors to steal or game the model. Finally, building an end-to-end interactive explainability system is a challenging engineering task; unless the main goal is its deployment, we recommend “Wizard of Oz” studies as a proxy for testing and evaluating standalone interactive explainability algorithms.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalKunstliche Intelligenz
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2020

Structured keywords

  • Digital Health


  • interactive
  • personalised
  • explanations
  • counterfactuals


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