KCRL: A Prior Knowledge Based Causal Discovery Framework with Reinforcement Learning
Proceedings of the 7th Machine Learning for Healthcare Conference, PMLR 182:691-714, 2022.
Causal discovery is an important problem in many sciences that enables us to estimate causal relationships from observational data. Particularly, in the healthcare domain, it can guide practitioners in making informed clinical decisions. Several causal discovery approaches have been developed over the last few decades. The success of these approaches mostly rely on a large number of data samples. In practice, however, an infinite amount of data is never available. Fortunately, often we have some prior knowledge available from the problem domain. Particularly, in healthcare settings, we often have some prior knowledge such as expert opinions, prior RCTs, literature evidence, and systematic reviews about the clinical problem. This prior information can be utilized in a systematic way to address the data scarcity problem. However, most of the existing causal discovery approaches lack a systematic way to incorporate prior knowledge during the search process. Recent advances in reinforcement learning techniques can be explored to use prior knowledge as constraints by penalizing the agent for their violations. Therefore, in this work, we propose a framework KCRL 1 that utilizes the existing knowledge as a constraint to penalize the search process during causal discovery. This utilization of existing information during causal discovery reduces the graph search space and enables a faster convergence to the optimal causal mechanism. We evaluated our framework on benchmark synthetic and real datasets as well as on a real-life healthcare application. We also compared its performance with several baseline causal discovery methods. The experimental findings show that penalizing the search process for constraint violation yields better performance compared to existing approaches that do not utilize prior knowledge.