Beyond Faithfulness: A Framework to Characterize and Compare Saliency Methods

by   Angie Boggust, et al.

Saliency methods calculate how important each input feature is to a machine learning model's prediction, and are commonly used to understand model reasoning. "Faithfulness", or how fully and accurately the saliency output reflects the underlying model, is an oft-cited desideratum for these methods. However, explanation methods must necessarily sacrifice certain information in service of user-oriented goals such as simplicity. To that end, and akin to performance metrics, we frame saliency methods as abstractions: individual tools that provide insight into specific aspects of model behavior and entail tradeoffs. Using this framing, we describe a framework of nine dimensions to characterize and compare the properties of saliency methods. We group these dimensions into three categories that map to different phases of the interpretation process: methodology, or how the saliency is calculated; sensitivity, or relationships between the saliency result and the underlying model or input; and, perceptibility, or how a user interprets the result. As we show, these dimensions give us a granular vocabulary for describing and comparing saliency methods – for instance, allowing us to develop "saliency cards" as a form of documentation, or helping downstream users understand tradeoffs and choose a method for a particular use case. Moreover, by situating existing saliency methods within this framework, we identify opportunities for future work, including filling gaps in the landscape and developing new evaluation metrics.


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