Differentiable Causal Backdoor Discovery

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Limor Gultchin, Matt Kusner, Varun Kanade, Ricardo Silva ;
Proceedings of the Twenty Third International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, PMLR 108:3970-3979, 2020.

Abstract

Discovering the causal effect of a decision is critical to nearly all forms of decision-making. In particular, it is a key quantity in drug development, in crafting government policy, and when implementing a real-world machine learning system. Given only observational data, confounders often obscure the true causal effect. Luckily, in some cases, it is possible to recover the causal effect by using certain observed variables to adjust for the effects of confounders. However, without access to the true causal model, finding this adjustment requires brute-force search. In this work, we present an algorithm that exploits auxiliary variables, similar to instruments, in order to find an appropriate adjustment by a gradient-based optimization method. We demonstrate that it outperforms practical alternatives in estimating the true causal effect, without knowledge of the full causal graph.

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