Lessons from the development of an anomaly detection interface on the Mars Perseverance Rover using the ISHMAP Framework

ACM International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces

While anomaly detection stands among the most important and valuable problems across many scientific domains, anomaly detection research often focuses on AI methods that can lack the nuance and interpretability so critical to conducting scientific inquiry. We believe this exclusive focus on algorithms with a fixed framing ultimately blocks scientists from adopting even high-accuracy anomaly detection models in many scientific use cases. In this application paper we present the results of utilizing an alternative approach that situates the mathematical framing of machine learning based anomaly detection within a participatory design framework. In a collaboration with NASA scientists working with the PIXL instrument studying Martian planetary geochemistry as a part of the search for extra-terrestrial life; we report on over 18 months of in-context user research and co-design to define the key problems NASA scientists face when looking to detect and interpret spectral anomalies. We address these problems and develop a novel spectral anomaly detection toolkit for PIXL scientists that is highly accurate (93.4% test accuracy on detecting diffraction anomalies), while maintaining strong transparency to scientific interpretation. We also describe outcomes from a yearlong field deployment of the algorithm and associated interface, now used daily as a core component of the PIXL science team’s workflow, and directly situate the algorithm as a key contributor to discoveries around the potential habitability of Mars. Finally we introduce a new design framework which we developed through the course of this collaboration for co-creating anomaly detection algorithms: Iterative Semantic Heuristic Modeling of Anomalous Phenomena (ISHMAP), which provides a process for scientists and researchers to produce natively interpretable anomaly detection models. This work showcases an example of successfully bridging methodologies from AI and HCI within a scientific domain, and provides a resource in ISHMAP which may be used by other researchers and practitioners looking to partner with other scientific teams to achieve better science through more effective and interpretable anomaly detection tools.