Algorithmic Recourse: From Counterfactual Explanations to Interventions

NeurIPS 2020

As machine learning is increasingly used to inform consequential decision-making (e.g., pre-trial bail and loan approval), it becomes important to explain how the system arrived at its decision, and also suggest actions to achieve a favorable decision. Counterfactual explanations -- "how the world would have (had) to be different for a desirable outcome to occur" -- aim to satisfy these criteria. Existing works have primarily focused on designing algorithms to obtain counterfactual explanations for a wide range of settings. However, one of the main objectives of "explanations as a means to help a data-subject act rather than merely understand" has been overlooked. In layman's terms, counterfactual explanations inform an individual where they need to get to, but not how to get there. In this work, we rely on causal reasoning to caution against the use of counterfactual explanations as a recommendable set of actions for recourse. Instead, we propose a shift of paradigm from recourse via nearest counterfactual explanations to recourse through minimal interventions, moving the focus from explanations to recommendations. Finally, we provide the reader with an extensive discussion on how to realistically achieve recourse beyond structural interventions. Speakers: Amir-Hossein Karimi, Bernhard Schölkopf, Isabel Valera