Causal Inference through a Witness Protection Program Machine Learning

One of the most fundamental problems in causal inference is the estimation of a causal effect when variables are confounded. This is difficult in an observational study, because one has no direct evidence that all confounders have been adjusted for. We introduce a novel approach for estimating causal effects that exploits observational conditional independencies to suggest "weak" paths in a unknown causal graph. The widely used faithfulness condition of Spirtes et al. is relaxed to allow for varying degrees of "path cancellations" that imply conditional independencies but do not rule out the existence of confounding causal paths. The outcome is a posterior distribution over bounds on the average causal effect via a linear programming approach and Bayesian inference. We claim this approach should be used in regular practice along with other default tools in observational studies.

Estimating the Size of a Large Network and its Communities from a Random Sample

Neural Information Processing Systems

Most real-world networks are too large to be measured or studied directly and there is substantial interest in estimating global network properties from smaller sub-samples. One of the most important global properties is the number of vertices/nodes in the network. Estimating the number of vertices in a large network is a major challenge in computer science, epidemiology, demography, and intelligence analysis. In this paper we consider a population random graph G = (V;E) from the stochastic block model (SBM) with K communities/blocks. A sample is obtained by randomly choosing a subset W and letting G(W) be the induced subgraph in G of the vertices in W. In addition to G(W), we observe the total degree of each sampled vertex and its block membership. Given this partial information, we propose an efficient PopULation Size Estimation algorithm, called PULSE, that accurately estimates the size of the whole population as well as the size of each community. To support our theoretical analysis, we perform an exhaustive set of experiments to study the effects of sample size, K, and SBM model parameters on the accuracy of the estimates. The experimental results also demonstrate that PULSE significantly outperforms a widely-used method called the network scale-up estimator in a wide variety of scenarios.

Probabilistic Similarity Networks Artificial Intelligence

Normative expert systems have not become commonplace because they have been difficult to build and use. Over the past decade, however, researchers have developed the influence diagram, a graphical representation of a decision maker's beliefs, alternatives, and preferences that serves as the knowledge base of a normative expert system. Most people who have seen the representation find it intuitive and easy to use. Consequently, the influence diagram has overcome significantly the barriers to constructing normative expert systems. Nevertheless, building influence diagrams is not practical for extremely large and complex domains. In this book, I address the difficulties associated with the construction of the probabilistic portion of an influence diagram, called a knowledge map, belief network, or Bayesian network. I introduce two representations that facilitate the generation of large knowledge maps. In particular, I introduce the similarity network, a tool for building the network structure of a knowledge map, and the partition, a tool for assessing the probabilities associated with a knowledge map. I then use these representations to build Pathfinder, a large normative expert system for the diagnosis of lymph-node diseases (the domain contains over 60 diseases and over 100 disease findings). In an early version of the system, I encoded the knowledge of the expert using an erroneous assumption that all disease findings were independent, given each disease. When the expert and I attempted to build a more accurate knowledge map for the domain that would capture the dependencies among the disease findings, we failed. Using a similarity network, however, we built the knowledge-map structure for the entire domain in approximately 40 hours. Furthermore, the partition representation reduced the number of probability assessments required by the expert from 75,000 to 14,000.

A rational decision making framework for inhibitory control

Neural Information Processing Systems

Intelligent agents are often faced with the need to choose actions with uncertain consequences, and to modify those actions according to ongoing sensory processing and changing task demands. The requisite ability to dynamically modify or cancel planned actions is known as inhibitory control in psychology. We formalize inhibitory control as a rational decision-making problem, and apply to it to the classical stop-signal task. Using Bayesian inference and stochastic control tools, we show that the optimal policy systematically depends on various parameters of the problem, such as the relative costs of different action choices, the noise level of sensory inputs, and the dynamics of changing environmental demands. Our normative model accounts for a range of behavioral data in humans and animals in the stop-signal task, suggesting that the brain implements statistically optimal, dynamically adaptive, and reward-sensitive decision-making in the context of inhibitory control problems.

PAC-Bayes Learning of Conjunctions and Classification of Gene-Expression Data

Neural Information Processing Systems

We propose a "soft greedy" learning algorithm for building small conjunctions of simple threshold functions, called rays, defined on single real-valued attributes. We also propose a PAC-Bayes risk bound which is minimized for classifiers achieving a nontrivial tradeoff between sparsity (the number of rays used) and the magnitude ofthe separating margin of each ray. Finally, we test the soft greedy algorithm on four DNA micro-array data sets.