Towards Transparent and Explainable Attention Models

Recent studies on interpretability of attention distributions have led to notions of faithful and plausible explanations for a model's predictions. Attention distributions can be considered a faithful explanation if a higher attention weight implies a greater impact on the model's prediction. They can be considered a plausible explanation if they provide a human-understandable justification for the model's predictions. In this work, we first explain why current attention mechanisms in LSTM based encoders can neither provide a faithful nor a plausible explanation of the model's predictions. We observe that in LSTM based encoders the hidden representations at different time-steps are very similar to each other (high conicity) and attention weights in these situations do not carry much meaning because even a random permutation of the attention weights does not affect the model's predictions. Based on experiments on a wide variety of tasks and datasets, we observe attention distributions often attribute the model's predictions to unimportant words such as punctuation and fail to offer a plausible explanation for the predictions. To make attention mechanisms more faithful and plausible, we propose a modified LSTM cell with a diversity-driven training objective that ensures that the hidden representations learned at different time steps are diverse. We show that the resulting attention distributions offer more transparency as they (i) provide a more precise importance ranking of the hidden states (ii) are better indicative of words important for the model's predictions (iii) correlate better with gradient-based attribution methods. Human evaluations indicate that the attention distributions learned by our model offer a plausible explanation of the model's predictions. Our code has been made publicly available at

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Reproducibility Reports

Jan 31 2021
[Re] Reproducibility study - Does enforcing diversity in hidden states of LSTM-Attention models improve transparency?

We confirm that the Orthogonal and Diversity LSTM achieve similar accuracies as the Vanilla LSTM, while lowering conicity. However, we cannot reproduce the results of several of the experiments in the paper that underlie their claim of better transparency. In addition, a close inspection of the code base reveals some potentially problematic inconsistencies. Despite this, under certain conditions, we do confirm that the Orthogonal and Diversity LSTM can be useful methods to increase transparency. How to formulate these conditions more generally remains unclear and deserves further research. The single input sequence tasks appear to benefit most from the methods. For these tasks, the attention mechanism does not play a critical role for achieving performance.

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