Databases and Information Systems

Provider-side Interpretability with Counterfactual Explanations in Recommender Systems

Interpretable explanations for recommender systems and other machine learning models are crucial to gain user trust. Prior works that have focused on paths connecting users and items in a heterogeneous network have several limitations, such as discovering relationships rather than true explanations, or disregarding other users' privacy. In this project, we take a fresh perspective, and present PRINCE: a provider-side mechanism to produce tangible explanations for end-users, where an explanation is defined to be a set of minimal actions performed by the user that, if removed, changes the recommendation to a different item. Given a recommendation, PRINCE uses a polynomial-time optimal algorithm for finding this minimal set of a user's actions from an exponential search space, based on random walks over dynamic graphs. Experiments on two real-world datasets show that PRINCE provides more compact explanations than intuitive baselines, and insights from a crowdsourced user-study demonstrate the viability of such action-based explanations. We thus posit that PRINCE produces scrutable, actionable, and concise explanations, owing to its use of counterfactual evidence, a user's own actions, and minimal sets, respectively.

Counterfactual Explanations for Neural Recommenders

Understanding why specific items are recommended to users can significantly increase their trust and satisfaction in the system. While neural recommenders have become the state-of-the-art in recent years, the complexity of deep models still makes the generation of tangible explanations for end users a challenging problem. Existing methods are usually based on attention distributions over a variety of features, which are still questionable regarding their suitability as explanations, and rather unwieldy to grasp for an end user. Counterfactual explanations based on a small set of the user’s own actions have been shown to be an acceptable solution to the tangibility problem. However, current work on such counterfactuals cannot be readily applied to neural models. In this project, we propose ACCENT, the first general framework for finding counterfactual explanations for neural recommenders. It extends recently-proposed influence functions for identifying training points most relevant to a recommendation, from a single to a pair of items, while deducing a counterfactual set in an iterative process. We use ACCENT to generate counterfactual explanations for two popular neural models, Neural Collaborative Filtering (NCF) and Relational CollaborativeFiltering (RCF), and demonstrate its feasibility on a sample of the popular MovieLens 100K dataset.


Azin Ghazimatin, Oana Balalau, Rishiraj Saha Roy, and Gerhard Weikum 

PRINCE: Provider-side Interpretability with Counterfactual Explanations in Recommender Systems

Proceedings of the 13th ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM 2020) 

[Preprint] [Slides] [Poster] [Code] [Video]


Khanh Hiep Tran, Azin Ghazimatin, and Rishiraj Saha Roy 

Counterfactual Explanations for Neural Recommenders

Proceedings of the 44th International ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval (SIGIR 2021) 

[Preprint] [Slides] [Poster] [Code] [Video] [ACM Badge]