Interprétabilité et explicabilité (formalisé) des modèles prédictifs

Dans Confessiones, Saint Augustin écrivait

quid est ergo tempus? si nemo ex me quaerat, scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio

que l’on traduit

Qu’est-ce-que le temps ? Si personne ne me le demande, je le sais. Si je veux l’expliquer à qui me le demande, je ne le sais plus.

Pour aller un peu plus loin (car souvent, si on nous demande d’expliquer, on a quelques idées), dans Une étude en rouge de Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, paru en 1887, on a l’échange suivant, entre Sherlock Holmes et le docteur Watson,

– Je me demande ce que cherche ce type là-bas, demandai-je,
désignant un grand individu habillé simplement qui suivait
l’autre côté de la rue, en examinant anxieusement les numéros.
Il tenait à la main une grande enveloppe bleue et, de toute
évidence, portait un message.
– Vous parlez de ce sergent d’infanterie de marine ? dit Sherlock Holmes.

puis, comme il s’avère que la personne est effectivement sergent dans la marine (tout comme un autre personnage de l’histoire, un certain Arthur Charpentier), le docteur Holmes lui demande une explication, il veut savoir comment il est arrivé à cette conclusion

« Comment diable avez-vous pu deviner cela ? demandai-je.
– Deviner quoi ? fit-il sans aménité.
– Eh bien, qu’il était un sergent de marine en retraite ?
– Je n’ai pas de temps à perdre en bagatelles ! répondit-il
avec brusquerie avant d’ajouter dans un sourire : excusez ma rudesse ! Vous avez rompu le fil de mes pensées. Mais c’est peut-être aussi bien. Ainsi donc vous ne voyiez pas que cet homme était un sergent de marine ?
Non, certainement pas !
– Décidément, l’explication de ma méthode me coûte plus que son application ! Si l’on vous demandait de prouver que deux et deux font quatre, vous seriez peut-être embarrassé ; et cependant, vous êtes sûr qu’il en est ainsi. Malgré la largeur de la rue, j’avais pu voir une grosse ancre bleue tatouée sur le dos de la main du gaillard. Cela sentait la mer. Il avait la démarche militaire et les favoris réglementaires ; c’était, à n’en pas douter, un marin. Il avait un certain air de commandement et d’importance. Rappelez-vous son port de tête et le balancement de sa canne ! En outre, son visage annonçait un homme d’âge moyen, sérieux, respectable. Tous ces détails m’ont amené à penser qu’il était sergent.
– C’est merveilleux ! m’écriai-je.
– Peuh ! L’enfance de l’art ! dit Holmes, mais d’un air qui me
parut trahir sa satisfaction devant ma surprise et mon admiration manifestes.

(pour être honnête, c’est Liu Cixin qui en parle dans Le problème à trois corps). Pour l’anecdote, c’est la première histoire du couple Holmes-Watson, qui introduit la méthode de travail de Sherlock Holmes. Pour ceux qui sont familier avec les nouvelles, cette approche narrative sera largement reprise par la suite: Sherlock Holmes énonce un fait, le docteur Watson est étonné et demande une explication, et Sherlock Holmes explique, point par point, comment il est arrivé à cette conclusion. C’est un peu cette approche qu’on tente de mettre en place quand on va construire un modèle prédictif : sur la base des données du Titanic, si on prédit que telle personne va mourir, et que telle autre va survivre, on veut comprendre pourquoi le modèle arrive à cette conclusion.

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Interpretability and explainability of predictive models

In 400 AD, in his Confessiones, Augustine wrote

quid est ergo tempus? si nemo ex me quaerat, scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio

that can be translated as

What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.

To go a little further (because often, if we are asked to explain, we have some ideas), in A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, published in 1887, we have the following exchange, between Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson

– “I wonder what that fellow is looking for?” I asked, pointing to a stalwart, plainly-dressed individual who was walking slowly down the other side of the street, looking anxiously at the numbers. He had a large blue envelope in his hand, and was evidently the bearer of a message.
– “You mean the retired sergeant of Marines,” said Sherlock Holmes.

then, as it turns out that the person is indeed a sergeant in the navy (as is another character in the story, someone named Arthur Charpentier), Dr. Holmes asks him for an explanation, he wants to know how he arrived at this conclusion

– “How in the world did you deduce that?” I asked.
“Deduce what?” said he, petulantly.
“Why, that he was a retired sergeant of Marines.”
“I have no time for trifles,” he answered, brusquely; then with a smile, “Excuse my rudeness. You broke the thread of my thoughts; but perhaps it is as well. So you actually were not able to see that that man was a sergeant of Marines?”
“No, indeed.”
– “It was easier to know it than to explain why I knew it. If you were asked to prove that two and two made four, you might find some difficulty, and yet you are quite sure of the fact. Even across the street I could see a great blue anchor tattooed on the back of the fellow’s hand. That smacked of the sea. He had a military carriage, however, and regulation side whiskers. There we have the marine. He was a man with some amount of self-importance and a certain air of command. You must have observed the way in which he held his head and swung his cane. A steady, respectable, middle-aged man, too, on the face of him – all facts which led me to believe that he had been a sergeant.”

(to be honest, it is Liu Cixin who talks about it in The Three-Body Problem). For the record, this is the first story of the Holmes-Watson couple, which introduces Sherlock Holmes’ working method. For those who are familiar with the short stories, this narrative approach will be widely used thereafter: Sherlock Holmes states a fact, Dr. Watson is astonished and asks for an explanation, and Sherlock Holmes explains, point by point, how he arrived at this conclusion. This is a bit like the approach we try to implement when we build a predictive model: on the basis of the Titanic data, if we predict that such and such a person will die, and that such and such a person will survive, we want to understand why the model arrives at this conclusion.
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What is the future of predictive probabilities in insurance?

This post was written with Laurence Barry and Ewen Gallic, in French, in November 2019 (see hal-02350006)

Insurance policies are classic examples of random contracts. This forces insurers to regularly quantify this uncertainty, to calculate probabilities in order to propose “fair” premiums for the commitments they are going to make. Isn’t it time to question this practice, at a time when artificial intelligence is exploding, offering predictive algorithms of a precision never seen before? At a time when big data / big brother could mean the disappearance of uncertainty itself?
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On consequences of Goodhart’s law

This post was initially written in French, in the Winter 2021.

As Marilyn Strathern stated, Goodhart’s Law says that “when a measure becomes a goal, it ceases to be a good measure.” There are many economic applications, but this law also helps to understand the dangers of algorithmic decisions, or to explain the difficulty of using the data available since the beginning of the SARS-CoV-2 COVID-19 pandemic.

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The scientific approach in times of crisis

This post was initially written in French, and published in April 2020.

In a conference given on February 13, 2020[i], entitled Against the Method, Didier Raoult stated “I have never done randomized trials […] to do that on infectious diseases, it makes no sense“. This view was repeated in a more detailed article, where Didier Raoult defended (what he called) “the morality [and] the humanism” of the Hippocratic oath against “the method” (and “mathematics”). As he reminds us, doing control groups is “telling the patient that we are going to give him at random either the drug we know works or the drug we do not know works” (Raoult (2020a, 2020b)). While this method of randomized experiments is now hailed in all disciplines – as the Nobel Prize in Economics awarded in 2019 to Esther Duflo, Michael Kremer and Abhijit Banerjee reminds us – how can a researcher take such a position today?
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Predicting Drought and Subsidence Risks in France

Our paper, Predicting Drought and Subsidence Risks in France, written with Molly Rose James, and Hani Ali, will appear soon in Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences.

The economic consequences of drought episodes are increasingly important, although they are often difficult to apprehend in part because of the complexity of the underlying mechanisms. In this article, we will study one of the consequences of drought, namely the risk of subsidence (or more specifically clay shrinkage induced subsidence), for which insurance has been mandatory in France for several decades. Using data obtained from several insurers, representing about a quarter of the household insurance market, over the past twenty years, we propose some statistical models to predict the frequency but also the intensity of these droughts, for insurers, showing that climate change will have probably major economic consequences on this risk. But even if we use more advanced models than standard regression-type models (here random forests to capture non linearity and cross effects), it is still difficult to predict the economic cost of subsidence claims, even if all geophysical and climatic information is available.

Government Intervention in Catastrophe Insurance Markets

Our paper, Government Intervention in Catastrophe Insurance Markets: A Reinforcement Learning Approach, jointly written with Menna Hassan and Nourhan Sakr is now available on ArXiv.

This paper designs a sequential repeated game of a micro-founded society with three types of agents: individuals, insurers, and a government. Nascent to economics literature, we use Reinforcement Learning (RL), closely related to multi-armed bandit problems, to learn the welfare impact of a set of proposed policy interventions per $1 spent on them. The paper rigorously discusses the desirability of the proposed interventions by comparing them against each other on a case-by-case basis. The paper provides a framework for algorithmic policy evaluation using calibrated theoretical models which can assist in feasibility studies.

What responsibility for the algorithms?

This post was initially written in French with Rodolphe Bigot (lecturer at the University of Picardie Jules Verne), in the Winter 2020, and follows a previous post entitled Rethinking responsibility and causality.

Historically, algorithms were content to provide decision support, leaving a human being to make the decision, but experiments are underway, with autonomous systems, making decisions, whether it be car driving systems, or predictive justice algorithms, as shown by Huss et al. (2018). This autonomy, which basically means the “ability to act freely” also refers to the idea of “governing oneself by one’s own laws“. But what is the responsibility of the decision maker in the case of a prediction that leads to harm?
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Rethinking responsibility and causality

This post was intially written in French with Rodolphe Bigot (lecturer at the University of Picardie Jules Verne) in the Fall 2019.

In 150 years, the concept of responsibility has evolved a lot, without ever disappearing. And today, we find it in a variety of contexts, from ecological or industrial disasters – we will evoke a “precautionary principle” that has blurred the very notion of causality – to “intelligent machines” – which leave the role of helper to finally make decisions in our place.
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An Open Lab-Notebook Experiment

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