Faithful Model Explanations through Energy-Constrained Conformal Counterfactuals

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articleScientificpeer-review


Counterfactual explanations offer an intuitive and straightforward way to explain black-box models and offer algorithmic recourse to individuals. To address the need for plausible explanations, existing work has primarily relied on surrogate models to learn how the input data is distributed. This effectively reallocates the task of learning realistic explanations for the data from the model itself to the surrogate. Consequently, the generated explanations may seem plausible to humans but need not necessarily describe the behaviour of the black-box model faithfully. We formalize this notion of faithfulness through the introduction of a tailored evaluation metric and propose a novel algorithmic framework for generating Energy-Constrained Conformal Counterfactuals that are only as plausible as the model permits. Through extensive empirical studies, we demonstrate that ECCCo reconciles the need for faithfulness and plausibility. In particular, we show that for models with gradient access, it is possible to achieve state-of-the-art performance without the need for surrogate models. To do so, our framework relies solely on properties defining the black-box model itself by leveraging recent advances in energy-based modelling and conformal prediction. To our knowledge, this is the first venture in this direction for generating faithful counterfactual explanations. Thus, we anticipate that ECCCo can serve as a baseline for future research. We believe that our work opens avenues for researchers and practitioners seeking tools to better distinguish trustworthy from unreliable models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10829-10837
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2024
Event38th AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, AAAI 2024 - Vancouver, Canada
Duration: 20 Feb 202427 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project
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.


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