Explainable Deep Learning: A Field Guide for the Uninitiated

Ning Xie, Gabrielle Ras, Marcel van Gerven, Derek Doran

Deep neural network (DNN) is an indispensable machine learning tool for achieving human-level performance on many learning tasks. Yet, due to its black-box nature, it is inherently difficult to understand which aspects of the input data drive the decisions of the network. There are various real-world scenarios in which humans need to make actionable decisions based on the output DNNs. Such decision support systems can be found in critical domains, such as legislation, law enforcement, etc. It is important that the humans making high-level decisions can be sure that the DNN decisions are driven by combinations of data features that are appropriate in the context of the deployment of the decision support system and that the decisions made are legally or ethically defensible. Due to the incredible pace at which DNN technology is being developed, the development of new methods and studies on explaining the decision-making process of DNNs has blossomed into an active research field. A practitioner beginning to study explainable deep learning may be intimidated by the plethora of orthogonal directions the field is taking. This complexity is further exacerbated by the general confusion that exists in defining what it means to be able to explain the actions of a deep learning system and to evaluate a system's "ability to explain". To alleviate this problem, this article offers a "field guide" to deep learning explainability for those uninitiated in the field. The field guide: i) Discusses the traits of a deep learning system that researchers enhance in explainability research, ii) places explainability in the context of other related deep learning research areas, and iii) introduces three simple dimensions defining the space of foundational methods that contribute to explainable deep learning. The guide is designed as an easy-to-digest starting point for those just embarking in the field.

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