Explainable Reinforcement Learning through a Causal Lens


  • Prashan Madumal The University of Melbourne
  • Tim Miller The University of Melbourne
  • Liz Sonenberg The University of Melbourne
  • Frank Vetere The University of Melbourne




Prominent theories in cognitive science propose that humans understand and represent the knowledge of the world through causal relationships. In making sense of the world, we build causal models in our mind to encode cause-effect relations of events and use these to explain why new events happen by referring to counterfactuals — things that did not happen. In this paper, we use causal models to derive causal explanations of the behaviour of model-free reinforcement learning agents. We present an approach that learns a structural causal model during reinforcement learning and encodes causal relationships between variables of interest. This model is then used to generate explanations of behaviour based on counterfactual analysis of the causal model. We computationally evaluate the model in 6 domains and measure performance and task prediction accuracy. We report on a study with 120 participants who observe agents playing a real-time strategy game (Starcraft II) and then receive explanations of the agents' behaviour. We investigate: 1) participants' understanding gained by explanations through task prediction; 2) explanation satisfaction and 3) trust. Our results show that causal model explanations perform better on these measures compared to two other baseline explanation models.




How to Cite

Madumal, P., Miller, T., Sonenberg, L., & Vetere, F. (2020). Explainable Reinforcement Learning through a Causal Lens. Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, 34(03), 2493-2500. https://doi.org/10.1609/aaai.v34i03.5631



AAAI Technical Track: Human-AI Collaboration