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Counterfactual Maximum Likelihood Estimation for Training Deep Networks
Xinyi Wang · Wenhu Chen · Michael Saxon · William Yang Wang

Tue Dec 07 08:30 AM -- 10:00 AM (PST) @

Although deep learning models have driven state-of-the-art performance on a wide array of tasks, they are prone to spurious correlations that should not be learned as predictive clues. To mitigate this problem, we propose a causality-based training framework to reduce the spurious correlations caused by observed confounders. We give theoretical analysis on the underlying general Structural Causal Model (SCM) and propose to perform Maximum Likelihood Estimation (MLE) on the interventional distribution instead of the observational distribution, namely Counterfactual Maximum Likelihood Estimation (CMLE). As the interventional distribution, in general, is hidden from the observational data, we then derive two different upper bounds of the expected negative log-likelihood and propose two general algorithms, Implicit CMLE and Explicit CMLE, for causal predictions of deep learning models using observational data. We conduct experiments on both simulated data and two real-world tasks: Natural Language Inference (NLI) and Image Captioning. The results show that CMLE methods outperform the regular MLE method in terms of out-of-domain generalization performance and reducing spurious correlations, while maintaining comparable performance on the regular evaluations.

Author Information

Xinyi Wang (UCSB)
Wenhu Chen (University of California, Santa Barbara)
Michael Saxon (UC Santa Barbara)
William Yang Wang (University of California, Santa Barbara)

William Wang is the Co-Director of UC Santa Barbara's Natural Language Processing group and Center for Responsible Machine Learning. He is the Duncan and Suzanne Mellichamp Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Designs, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He received his PhD from School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University. He has broad interests in Artificial Intelligence, including statistical relational learning, information extraction, computational social science, dialog & generation, and vision. He has published more than 100 papers at leading NLP/AI/ML conferences and journals, and received best paper awards (or nominations) at ASRU 2013, CIKM 2013, EMNLP 2015, and CVPR 2019, a DARPA Young Faculty Award (Class of 2018), an IEEE AI's 10 to Watch Award (Class of 2020), an NSF CAREER Award (2021), two Google Faculty Research Awards (2018, 2019), three IBM Faculty Awards (2017-2019), two Facebook Research Awards (2018, 2019), an Amazon AWS Machine Learning Research Award, a JP Morgan Chase Faculty Research Award, an Adobe Research Award in 2018, and the Richard King Mellon Presidential Fellowship in 2011. He frequently serves as an Area Chair or Senior Area Chair for NAACL, ACL, EMNLP, and AAAI. He is an elected member of IEEE Speech and Language Processing Technical Committee (2021-2023) and a member of ACM Future of Computing Academy. In addition to research, William enjoys writing scientific articles that impact the broader online community. His work and opinions appear at major tech media outlets such as Wired, VICE, Scientific American, Fortune, Fast Company, NASDAQ, The Next Web, Law.com, and Mental Floss.

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