| Total: 37

Causal inference in a sub-population involves identifying the causal effect of an intervention on a specific subgroup, which is distinguished from the whole population through the influence of systematic biases in the sampling process. However, ignoring the subtleties introduced by sub-populations can either lead to erroneous inference or limit the applicability of existing methods. We introduce and advocate for a causal inference problem in sub-populations (henceforth called s-ID), in which we merely have access to observational data of the targeted sub-population (as opposed to the entire population). Existing inference problems in sub-populations operate on the premise that the given data distributions originate from the entire population, thus, cannot tackle the s-ID problem. To address this gap, we provide necessary and sufficient conditions that must hold in the causal graph for a causal effect in a sub-population to be identifiable from the observational distribution of that sub-population. Given these conditions, we present a sound and complete algorithm for the s-ID problem.

Bayesian Experimental Design (BED), which aims to find the optimal experimental conditions for Bayesian inference, is usually posed as to optimize the expected information gain (EIG). The gradient information is often needed for efficient EIG optimization, and as a result the ability to estimate the gradient of EIG is essential for BED problems. The primary goal of this work is to develop methods for estimating the gradient of EIG, which, combined with the stochastic gradient descent algorithms, result in efficient optimization of EIG. Specifically, we first introduce a posterior expected representation of the EIG gradient with respect to the design variables. Based on this, we propose two methods for estimating the EIG gradient, UEEG-MCMC that leverages posterior samples generated through Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) to estimate the EIG gradient, and BEEG-AP that focuses on achieving high simulation efficiency by repeatedly using parameter samples. Theoretical analysis and numerical studies illustrate that UEEG-MCMC is robust agains the actual EIG value, while BEEG-AP is more efficient when the EIG value to be optimized is small. Moreover, both methods show superior performance compared to several popular benchmarks in our numerical experiments.

To improve reliability and the understanding of AI systems, there is increasing interest in the use of formal methods, e.g. model checking. Model checking tools produce a counterexample when a model does not satisfy a property. Understanding these counterexamples is critical for efficient debugging, as it allows the developer to focus on the parts of the program that caused the issue. To this end, we present a new technique that ascribes a responsibility value to each state in a transition system that does not satisfy a given safety property. The value is higher if the non-deterministic choices in a state have more power to change the outcome, given the behaviour observed in the counterexample. For this, we employ a concept from cooperative game theory – namely general power indices, such as the Shapley value – to compute the responsibility of the states. We present an optimistic and pessimistic version of responsibility that differ in how they treat the states that do not lie on the counterexample. We give a characterisation of optimistic responsibility that leads to an efficient algorithm for it and show computational hardness of the pessimistic version. We also present a tool to compute responsibility and show how a stochastic algorithm can be used to approximate responsibility in larger models. These methods can be deployed in the design phase, at runtime and at inspection time to gain insights on causal relations within the behavior of AI systems.

Langevin dynamics (LD) is widely used for sampling from distributions and for optimization. In this work, we derive a closed-form expression for the expected loss of preconditioned LD near stationary points of the objective function. We use the fact that at the vicinity of such points, LD reduces to an Ornstein–Uhlenbeck process, which is amenable to convenient mathematical treatment. Our analysis reveals that when the preconditioning matrix satisfies a particular relation with respect to the noise covariance, LD's expected loss becomes proportional to the rank of the objective's Hessian. We illustrate the applicability of this result in the context of neural networks, where the Hessian rank has been shown to capture the complexity of the predictor function but is usually computationally hard to probe. Finally, we use our analysis to compare SGD-like and Adam-like preconditioners and identify the regimes under which each of them leads to a lower expected loss.

Pandora’s problem is a fundamental model that studies optimal search under costly inspection. In the classic version, there are n boxes, each associated with a known cost and a known distribution over values. A strategy inspects the boxes sequentially and obtains a utility that equals the difference between the maximum value of an inspected box and the total inspection cost. Weitzman (1979) presented a surprisingly simple strategy that obtains the optimal expected utility. In this work we introduce a new variant of Pandora’s problem in which every box is also associated with a publicly known deadline, indicating the final round by which its value may be chosen. This model captures many real-life scenarios where alternatives admit deadlines, such as candidate interviews and college admissions. Our main result is an efficient threshold-based strategy that achieves a constant approximation relative to the performance of the optimal strategy for the deadlines setting.

We present a new zero-order optimization method called Minibatch Stochastic Three Points (MiSTP), specifically designed to solve stochastic unconstrained minimization problems when only an approximate evaluation of the objective function is possible. MiSTP is an extension of the Stochastic Three Point Method (STP). The key innovation of MiSTP is that it selects the next point solely based on the objective function approximation, without relying on its exact evaluation. At each iteration, MiSTP generates a random search direction and compares the approximations of the objective function at the current point, the randomly generated direction and its opposite. The best of these three points is chosen as the next iterate. We analyze the worst-case complexity of MiSTP in the convex and non-convex cases and demonstrate that it matches the most accurate complexity bounds known in the literature for zero-order optimization methods. We perform extensive numerical evaluations to assess the computational efficiency of MiSTP and compare its performance to other state-of-the-art methods by testing it on several machine learning tasks. The results show that MiSTP outperforms or has comparable performance against state-of-the-art methods indicating its potential for a wide range of practical applications.

Causal discovery with latent variables is a crucial but challenging task. Despite the emergence of numerous methods aimed at addressing this challenge, they are not fully identified to the structure that two observed variables are influenced by one latent variable and there might be a directed edge in between. Interestingly, we notice that this structure can be identified through the utilization of higher-order cumulants. By leveraging the higher-order cumulants of non-Gaussian data, we provide an analytical solution for estimating the causal coefficients or their ratios. With the estimated (ratios of) causal coefficients, we propose a novel approach to identify the existence of a causal edge between two observed variables subject to latent variable influence. In case when such a causal edge exits, we introduce an asymmetry criterion to determine the causal direction. The experimental results demonstrate the effectiveness of our proposed method.

We introduce a new amortized likelihood ratio estimator for likelihood-free simulation-based inference (SBI). Our estimator is simple to train and estimates the likelihood ratio using a single forward pass of the neural estimator. Our approach directly computes the likelihood ratio between two competing parameter sets which is different from the previous approach of comparing two neural network output values. We refer to our model as the direct neural ratio estimator (DNRE). As part of introducing the DNRE, we derive a corresponding Monte Carlo estimate of the posterior. We benchmark our new ratio estimator and compare to previous ratio estimators in the literature. We show that our new ratio estimator often outperforms these previous approaches. As a further contribution, we introduce a new derivative estimator for likelihood ratio estimators that enables us to compare likelihood-free Hamiltonian Monte Carlo (HMC) with random-walk Metropolis-Hastings (MH). We show that HMC is equally competitive, which has not been previously shown. Finally, we include a novel real-world application of SBI by using our neural ratio estimator to design a quadcopter. Code is available at https://github.com/SRI-CSL/dnre.

In practice, it is essential to compare and rank candidate policies offline before real-world deployment for safety and reliability. Prior work seeks to solve this offline policy ranking (OPR) problem through value-based methods, such as Off-policy evaluation (OPE). However, they fail to analyze special case performance (e.g., worst or best cases), due to the lack of holistic characterization of policies’ performance. It is even more difficult to estimate precise policy values when the reward is not fully accessible under sparse settings. In this paper, we present Probabilistic Offline Policy Ranking (POPR), a framework to address OPR problems by leveraging expert data to characterize the probability of a candidate policy behaving like experts, and approximating its entire performance posterior distribution to help with ranking. POPR does not rely on value estimation, and the derived performance posterior can be used to distinguish candidates in worst-, best-, and average-cases. To estimate the posterior, we propose POPR-EABC, an Energy-based Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC) method conducting likelihood-free inference. POPR-EABC reduces the heuristic nature of ABC by a smooth energy function, and improves the sampling efficiency by a pseudo-likelihood. We empirically demonstrate that POPR-EABC is adequate for evaluating policies in both discrete and continuous action spaces across various experiment environments, and facilitates probabilistic comparisons of candidate policies before deployment.

Many applications, e.g. in content recommendation, sports, or recruitment, leverage the comparisons of alternatives to score those alternatives. The classical Bradley-Terry model and its variants have been widely used to do so. The historical model considers binary comparisons (victory/defeat) between alternatives, while more recent developments allow finer comparisons to be taken into account. In this article, we introduce a probabilistic model encompassing a broad variety of paired comparisons that can take discrete or continuous values. We do so by considering a well-behaved subset of the exponential family, which we call the family of generalized Bradley-Terry (GBT) models, as it includes the classical Bradley-Terry model and many of its variants. Remarkably, we prove that all GBT models are guaranteed to yield a strictly convex negative log-likelihood. Moreover, assuming a Gaussian prior on alternatives' scores, we prove that the maximum a posteriori (MAP) of GBT models, whose existence, uniqueness and fast computation are thus guaranteed, varies monotonically with respect to comparisons (the more A beats B, the better the score of A) and is Lipschitz-resilient with respect to each new comparison (a single new comparison can only have a bounded effect on all the estimated scores). These desirable properties make GBT models appealing for practical use. We illustrate some features of GBT models on simulations.

Dynamic structural causal models (SCMs) are a powerful framework for reasoning in dynamic systems about direct effects which measure how a change in one variable affects another variable while holding all other variables constant. The causal relations in a dynamic structural causal model can be qualitatively represented with an acyclic full-time causal graph. Assuming linearity and no hidden confounding and given the full-time causal graph, the direct causal effect is always identifiable. However, in many application such a graph is not available for various reasons but nevertheless experts have access to the summary causal graph of the full-time causal graph which represents causal relations between time series while omitting temporal information and allowing cycles. This paper presents a complete identifiability result which characterizes all cases for which the direct effect is graphically identifiable from a summary causal graph and gives two sound finite adjustment sets that can be used to estimate the direct effect whenever it is identifiable.

Many decision and optimization problems have natural extensions as counting problems. The best known example is the Boolean satisfiability problem (SAT), where we want to count the satisfying assignments of truth values to the variables, which is known as the #SAT problem. Likewise, for discrete optimization problems, we want to count the states on which the objective function attains the optimal value. Both SAT and discrete optimization can be formulated as selective marginalize a product function (MPF) queries. Here, we show how general selective MPF queries can be extended for model counting. MPF queries are encoded as tensor hypernetworks over suitable semirings that can be solved by generic tensor hypernetwork contraction algorithms. Our model counting extension is again an MPF query, on an extended semiring, that can be solved by the same contraction algorithms. Model counting is required for uniform model sampling. We show how the counting extension can be further extended for model sampling by constructing yet another semiring. We have implemented the model counting and sampling extensions. Experiments show that our generic approach is competitive with the state of the art in model counting and model sampling.

Linear structural causal models (SCMs) are used to express and analyze the relationships between random variables. Direct causal effects are represented as directed edges and confounding factors as bidirected edges. Identifying the causal parameters from correlations between the nodes is an open problem in artificial intelligence. In this paper, we study SCMs whose directed component forms a tree. Van der Zander et al. give a PSPACE-algorithm for the identification problem in this case, which is a significant improvement over the general Gröbner basis approach, which has doubly-exponential time complexity in the number of structural parameters. However, they do not show that their algorithm is complete. In this work, we present a randomized polynomial-time algorithm, which solves the identification problem for tree-shaped SCMs. For every structural parameter, our algorithms decides whether it is generically identifiable, generically 2-identifiable, or generically unidentifiable. (No other cases can occur.) In the first two cases, it provides one or two fractional affine square root terms of polynomials (FASTPs) for the corresponding parameter, respectively. In particular, our algorithm is not only polynomial time, but also complete for for tree-shaped SCMs.

We propose an approach to learn a multiattribute utility function to model, explain or predict the value system of a Decision Maker. The main challenge of the modelling task is to describe human values and preferences in the presence of interacting attributes while keeping the utility function as simple as possible. We focus on the generalized additive decomposable utility model which allows interactions between attributes while preserving some additive decomposability of the evaluation model. We present a learning approach able to identify the factors of interacting attributes and to learn the utility functions defined on these factors. This approach relies on the determination of a sparse representation of the ANOVA decomposition of the multiattribute utility function using multiple kernel learning. It applies to both continuous and discrete attributes. Numerical tests are performed to demonstrate the practical efficiency of the learning approach.

Estimating heterogeneous treatment effects across individuals has attracted growing attention as a statistical tool for performing critical decision-making. We propose a Bayesian inference framework that quantifies the uncertainty in treatment effect estimation to support decision-making in a relatively small sample size setting. Our proposed model places Gaussian process priors on the nonparametric components of a semiparametric model called a partially linear model. This model formulation has three advantages. First, we can analytically compute the posterior distribution of a treatment effect without relying on the computationally demanding posterior approximation. Second, we can guarantee that the posterior distribution concentrates around the true one as the sample size goes to infinity. Third, we can incorporate prior knowledge about a treatment effect into the prior distribution, improving the estimation efficiency. Our experimental results show that even in the small sample size setting, our method can accurately estimate the heterogeneous treatment effects and effectively quantify its estimation uncertainty.

To infer a diffusion network based on observations from historical diffusion processes, existing approaches assume that observation data contain exact occurrence time of each node infection, or at least the eventual infection statuses of nodes in each diffusion process. They determine potential influence relationships between nodes by identifying frequent sequences, or statistical correlations, among node infections. In some real-world settings, such as the spread of epidemics, tracing exact infection times is often infeasible due to a high cost; even obtaining precise infection statuses of nodes is a challenging task, since observable symptoms such as headache only partially reveal a node’s true status. In this work, we investigate how to effectively infer a diffusion network from observation data with uncertainty. Provided with only probabilistic information about node infection statuses, we formulate the problem of diffusion network inference as a constrained nonlinear regression w.r.t. the probabilistic data. An alternating maximization method is designed to solve this regression problem iteratively, and the improvement of solution quality in each iteration can be theoretically guaranteed. Empirical studies are conducted on both synthetic and real-world networks, and the results verify the effectiveness and efficiency of our approach.

This paper studies bandit problems where an agent has access to offline data that might be utilized to potentially improve the estimation of each arm’s reward distribution. A major obstacle in this setting is the existence of compound biases from the observational data. Ignoring these biases and blindly fitting a model with the biased data could even negatively affect the online learning phase. In this work, we formulate this problem from a causal perspective. First, we categorize the biases into confounding bias and selection bias based on the causal structure they imply. Next, we extract the causal bound for each arm that is robust towards compound biases from biased observational data. The derived bounds contain the ground truth mean reward and can effectively guide the bandit agent to learn a nearly-optimal decision policy. We also conduct regret analysis in both contextual and non-contextual bandit settings and show that prior causal bounds could help consistently reduce the asymptotic regret.

In this paper, we study the effectiveness of using a constant stepsize in statistical inference via linear stochastic approximation (LSA) algorithms with Markovian data. After establishing a Central Limit Theorem (CLT), we outline an inference procedure that uses averaged LSA iterates to construct confidence intervals (CIs). Our procedure leverages the fast mixing property of constant-stepsize LSA for better covariance estimation and employs Richardson-Romberg (RR) extrapolation to reduce the bias induced by constant stepsize and Markovian data. We develop theoretical results for guiding stepsize selection in RR extrapolation, and identify several important settings where the bias provably vanishes even without extrapolation. We conduct extensive numerical experiments and compare against classical inference approaches. Our results show that using a constant stepsize enjoys easy hyperparameter tuning, fast convergence, and consistently better CI coverage, especially when data is limited.

Real-world data typically exhibit aleatoric uncertainty which has to be considered during data-driven decision-making to assess the confidence of the decision provided by machine learning models. To propagate aleatoric uncertainty represented by probability distributions (PDs) through neural networks (NNs), both sampling-based and function approximation-based methods have been proposed. However, these methods suffer from significant approximation errors and are not able to accurately represent predictive uncertainty in the NN output. In this paper, we present a novel method, Piecewise Linear Transformation (PLT), for propagating PDs through NNs with piecewise linear activation functions (e.g., ReLU NNs). PLT does not require sampling or specific assumptions about the PDs. Instead, it harnesses the piecewise linear structure of such NNs to determine the propagated PD in the output space. In this way, PLT supports the accurate quantification of predictive uncertainty based on the criterion exactness of the propagated PD. We assess this exactness in theory by showing error bounds for our propagated PD. Further, our experimental evaluation validates that PLT outperforms competing methods on publicly available real-world classification and regression datasets regarding exactness. Thus, the PDs propagated by PLT allow to assess the uncertainty of the provided decisions, offering valuable support.

Probabilities of causation are proven to be critical in modern decision-making. This paper deals with the problem of estimating the probabilities of causation when treatment and effect are not binary. Pearl defined the binary probabilities of causation, such as the probability of necessity and sufficiency (PNS), the probability of sufficiency (PS), and the probability of necessity (PN). Tian and Pearl then derived sharp bounds for these probabilities of causation using experimental and observational data. In this paper, we define and provide theoretical bounds for all types of probabilities of causation with multivalued treatments and effects. We further discuss examples where our bounds guide practical decisions and use simulation studies to evaluate how informative the bounds are for various data combinations.

The unit selection problem aims to identify a set of individuals who are most likely to exhibit a desired mode of behavior or to evaluate the percentage of such individuals in a given population, for example, selecting individuals who would respond one way if encouraged and a different way if not encouraged. Using a combination of experimental and observational data, Li and Pearl solved the binary unit selection problem (binary treatment and effect) by deriving tight bounds on the "benefit function," which is the payoff/cost associated with selecting an individual with given characteristics. This paper extends the benefit function to the general form such that the treatment and effect are not restricted to binary. We then propose an algorithm to test the identifiability of the nonbinary benefit function and an algorithm to compute the bounds of the nonbinary benefit function using experimental and observational data.

Satisfiability Modulo Counting (SMC) encompasses problems that require both symbolic decision-making and statistical reasoning. Its general formulation captures many real-world problems at the intersection of symbolic and statistical AI. SMC searches for policy interventions to control probabilistic outcomes. Solving SMC is challenging because of its highly intractable nature (NP^PP-complete), incorporating statistical inference and symbolic reasoning. Previous research on SMC solving lacks provable guarantees and/or suffers from suboptimal empirical performance, especially when combinatorial constraints are present. We propose XOR-SMC, a polynomial algorithm with access to NP-oracles, to solve highly intractable SMC problems with constant approximation guarantees. XOR-SMC transforms the highly intractable SMC into satisfiability problems by replacing the model counting in SMC with SAT formulae subject to randomized XOR constraints. Experiments on solving important SMC problems in AI for social good demonstrate that XOR-SMC outperforms several baselines both in solution quality and running time.

Learning Granger causality from event sequences is a challenging but essential task across various applications. Most existing methods rely on the assumption that event sequences are independent and identically distributed (i.i.d.). However, this i.i.d. assumption is often violated due to the inherent dependencies among the event sequences. Fortunately, in practice, we find these dependencies can be modeled by a topological network, suggesting a potential solution to the non-i.i.d. problem by introducing the prior topological network into Granger causal discovery. This observation prompts us to tackle two ensuing challenges: 1) how to model the event sequences while incorporating both the prior topological network and the latent Granger causal structure, and 2) how to learn the Granger causal structure. To this end, we devise a unified topological neural Poisson auto-regressive model with two processes. In the generation process, we employ a variant of the neural Poisson process to model the event sequences, considering influences from both the topological network and the Granger causal structure. In the inference process, we formulate an amortized inference algorithm to infer the latent Granger causal structure. We encapsulate these two processes within a unified likelihood function, providing an end-to-end framework for this task. Experiments on simulated and real-world data demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach.

Lifted probabilistic inference exploits symmetries in a probabilistic model to allow for tractable probabilistic inference with respect to domain sizes. To apply lifted inference, a lifted representation has to be obtained, and to do so, the so-called colour passing algorithm is the state of the art. The colour passing algorithm, however, is bound to a specific inference algorithm and we found that it ignores commutativity of factors while constructing a lifted representation. We contribute a modified version of the colour passing algorithm that uses logical variables to construct a lifted representation independent of a specific inference algorithm while at the same time exploiting commutativity of factors during an offline-step. Our proposed algorithm efficiently detects more symmetries than the state of the art and thereby drastically increases compression, yielding significantly faster online query times for probabilistic inference when the resulting model is applied.

Identifying root causes of anomalies in causal processes is vital across disciplines. Once identified, one can isolate the root causes and implement necessary measures to restore the normal operation. Causal processes are often modelled as graphs with entities being nodes and their paths/interconnections as edge. Existing work only consider the contribution of nodes in the generative process, thus can not attribute the outlier score to the edges of the mechanism if the anomaly occurs in the connections. In this paper, we consider both individual edge and node of each mechanism when identifying the root causes. We introduce a noisy functional causal model to account for this purpose. Then, we employ Bayesian learning and inference methods to infer the noises of the nodes and edges. We then represent the functional form of a target outlier leaf as a function of the node and edge noises. Finally, we propose an efficient gradient-based attribution method to compute the anomaly attribution scores which scales linearly with the number of nodes and edges. Experiments on simulated datasets and two real-world scenario datasets show better anomaly attribution performance of the proposed method compared to the baselines. Our method scales to larger graphs with more nodes and edges.