Moving beyond generalization to accurate interpretation of flexible models

Mikhail Genkin, Tatiana A. Engel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Machine learning optimizes flexible models to predict data. In scientific applications, there is a rising interest in interpreting these flexible models to derive hypotheses from data. However, it is unknown whether good data prediction guarantees the accurate interpretation of flexible models. Here, we test this connection using a flexible, yet intrinsically interpretable framework for modelling neural dynamics. We find that many models discovered during optimization predict data equally well, yet they fail to match the correct hypothesis. We develop an alternative approach that identifies models with correct interpretation by comparing model features across data samples to separate true features from noise. We illustrate our findings using recordings of spiking activity from the visual cortex of monkeys performing a fixation task. Our results reveal that good predictions cannot substitute for accurate interpretation of flexible models and offer a principled approach to identify models with correct interpretation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)674-683
Number of pages10
JournalNature Machine Intelligence
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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