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Poster
The Causal-Neural Connection: Expressiveness, Learnability, and Inference
Kevin M Xia · Kai-Zhan Lee · Yoshua Bengio · Elias Bareinboim

Tue Dec 07 08:30 AM -- 10:00 AM (PST) @ None #None

One of the central elements of any causal inference is an object called structural causal model (SCM), which represents a collection of mechanisms and exogenous sources of random variation of the system under investigation (Pearl, 2000). An important property of many kinds of neural networks is universal approximability: the ability to approximate any function to arbitrary precision. Given this property, one may be tempted to surmise that a collection of neural nets is capable of learning any SCM by training on data generated by that SCM. In this paper, we show this is not the case by disentangling the notions of expressivity and learnability. Specifically, we show that the causal hierarchy theorem (Thm. 1, Bareinboim et al., 2020), which describes the limits of what can be learned from data, still holds for neural models. For instance, an arbitrarily complex and expressive neural net is unable to predict the effects of interventions given observational data alone. Given this result, we introduce a special type of SCM called a neural causal model (NCM), and formalize a new type of inductive bias to encode structural constraints necessary for performing causal inferences. Building on this new class of models, we focus on solving two canonical tasks found in the literature known as causal identification and estimation. Leveraging the neural toolbox, we develop an algorithm that is both sufficient and necessary to determine whether a causal effect can be learned from data (i.e., causal identifiability); it then estimates the effect whenever identifiability holds (causal estimation). Simulations corroborate the proposed approach.

Author Information

Kevin M Xia (Columbia University)
Kai-Zhan Lee (Columbia University)
Yoshua Bengio (Mila / U. Montreal)

Yoshua Bengio (PhD'1991 in Computer Science, McGill University). After two post-doctoral years, one at MIT with Michael Jordan and one at AT&T Bell Laboratories with Yann LeCun, he became professor at the department of computer science and operations research at Université de Montréal. Author of two books (a third is in preparation) and more than 200 publications, he is among the most cited Canadian computer scientists and is or has been associate editor of the top journals in machine learning and neural networks. Since '2000 he holds a Canada Research Chair in Statistical Learning Algorithms, since '2006 an NSERC Chair, since '2005 his is a Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and since 2014 he co-directs its program focused on deep learning. He is on the board of the NIPS foundation and has been program chair and general chair for NIPS. He has co-organized the Learning Workshop for 14 years and co-created the International Conference on Learning Representations. His interests are centered around a quest for AI through machine learning, and include fundamental questions on deep learning, representation learning, the geometry of generalization in high-dimensional spaces, manifold learning and biologically inspired learning algorithms.

Elias Bareinboim (Columbia University)

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