Explainable artificial intelligence in forensics: Realistic explanations for number of contributor predictions of DNA profiles

M.S. Veldhuis, Simone Ariëns, Rolf J.F. Ypma, T.E.P.M.F. Abeel, Corina C.G. Benschop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Machine learning obtains good accuracy in determining the number of contributors (NOC) in short tandem repeat (STR) mixture DNA profiles. However, the models used so far are not understandable to users as they only output a prediction without any reasoning for that conclusion. Therefore, we leverage techniques from the field of explainable artificial intelligence (XAI) to help users understand why specific predictions are made. Where previous attempts at explainability for NOC estimation have relied upon using simpler, more understandable models that achieve lower accuracy, we use techniques that can be applied to any machine learning model. Our explanations incorporate SHAP values and counterfactual examples for each prediction into a single visualization. Existing methods for generating counterfactuals focus on uncorrelated features. This makes them inappropriate for the highly correlated features derived from STR data for NOC estimation, as these techniques simulate combinations of features that could not have resulted from an STR profile. For this reason, we have constructed a new counterfactual method, Realistic Counterfactuals (ReCo), which generates realistic counterfactual explanations for correlated data. We show that ReCo outperforms state-of-the-art methods on traditional metrics, as well as on a novel realism score. A user evaluation of the visualization shows positive opinions of end-users, which is ultimately the most appropriate metric in assessing explanations for real-world settings.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102632
JournalForensic Science International
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Number of contributors
  • Explainable artificial intelligence
  • DNA mixtures
  • Machine learning
  • Counterfactual explanations


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