Chapter 3 Interpretability

It is difficult to (mathematically) define interpretability. A (non-mathematical) definition of interpretability that I like by Miller (2017)3 is: Interpretability is the degree to which a human can understand the cause of a decision. Another one is: Interpretability is the degree to which a human can consistently predict the model’s result 4. The higher the interpretability of a machine learning model, the easier it is for someone to comprehend why certain decisions or predictions have been made. A model is better interpretable than another model if its decisions are easier for a human to comprehend than decisions from the other model. I will use both the terms interpretable and explainable interchangeably. Like Miller (2017), I think it makes sense to distinguish between the terms interpretability/explainability and explanation. I will use “explanation” for explanations of individual predictions. See the section about explanations to learn what we humans see as a good explanation.

Interpretable machine learning is a useful umbrella term that captures the “extraction of relevant knowledge from a machine-learning model concerning relationships either contained in data or learned by the model”. 5


  1. Miller, Tim. “Explanation in artificial intelligence: Insights from the social sciences.” arXiv Preprint arXiv:1706.07269. (2017).↩︎

  2. Kim, Been, Rajiv Khanna, and Oluwasanmi O. Koyejo. “Examples are not enough, learn to criticize! Criticism for interpretability.” Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems (2016).↩︎

  3. Murdoch, W. J., Singh, C., Kumbier, K., Abbasi-Asl, R., & Yu, B. Definitions, methods, and applications in interpretable machine learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(44), 22071-22080. (2019).↩︎