A detailed study of interpretability of deep neural network based top taggers

Ayush Khot, Mark S. Neubauer, Avik Roy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent developments in the methods of explainable artificial intelligence (XAI) allow researchers to explore the inner workings of deep neural networks (DNNs), revealing crucial information about input-output relationships and realizing how data connects with machine learning models. In this paper we explore interpretability of DNN models designed to identify jets coming from top quark decay in high energy proton-proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider. We review a subset of existing top tagger models and explore different quantitative methods to identify which features play the most important roles in identifying the top jets. We also investigate how and why feature importance varies across different XAI metrics, how correlations among features impact their explainability, and how latent space representations encode information as well as correlate with physically meaningful quantities. Our studies uncover some major pitfalls of existing XAI methods and illustrate how they can be overcome to obtain consistent and meaningful interpretation of these models. We additionally illustrate the activity of hidden layers as neural activation pattern diagrams and demonstrate how they can be used to understand how DNNs relay information across the layers and how this understanding can help to make such models significantly simpler by allowing effective model reoptimization and hyperparameter tuning. These studies not only facilitate a methodological approach to interpreting models but also unveil new insights about what these models learn. Incorporating these observations into augmented model design, we propose the particle flow interaction network model and demonstrate how interpretability-inspired model augmentation can improve top tagging performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number035003
JournalMachine Learning: Science and Technology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • explainable AI
  • interpretable machine learning
  • jet classification with deep learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Artificial Intelligence


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