Feature construction can substantially improve the accuracy of Machine Learning (ML) algorithms. Genetic Programming (GP) has been proven to be effective at this task by evolving non-linear combinations of input features. GP additionally has the potential to improve ML explainability since explicit expressions are evolved. Yet, in most GP works the complexity of evolved features is not explicitly bound or minimized though this is arguably key for explainability. In this article, we assess to what extent GP still performs favorably at feature construction when constructing features that are (1) Of small-enough number, to enable visualization of the behavior of the ML model; (2) Of small-enough size, to enable interpretability of the features themselves; (3) Of sufficient informative power, to retain or even improve the performance of the ML algorithm. We consider a simple feature construction scheme using three different GP algorithms, as well as random search, to evolve features for five ML algorithms, including support vector machines and random forest. Our results on 21 datasets pertaining to classification and regression problems show that constructing only two compact features can be sufficient to rival the use of the entire original feature set. We further find that a modern GP algorithm, GP-GOMEA, performs best overall. These results, combined with examples that we provide of readable constructed features and of 2D visualizations of ML behavior, lead us to positively conclude that GP-based feature construction still works well when explicitly searching for compact features, making it extremely helpful to explain ML models.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Feature construction, Interpretable machine learning, Genetic programming, GOMEA
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.swevo.2019.100640
Journal Swarm and Evolutionary Computation
Citation
Virgolin, M, Alderliesten, T, & Bosman, P.A.N. (2020). On explaining machine learning models by evolving crucial and compact features. Swarm and Evolutionary Computation, 53. doi:10.1016/j.swevo.2019.100640