Thursday, January 16, 2020

Thursday, January 16, 2020 — 10:00 to 10:00 AM EST

Adapting black-box machine learning methods for causal inference

I'll cover two recent works on the use of deep learning for causal inference with observational data. The setup for the problem is: we have an observational dataset where each observation includes a treatment, an outcome, and covariates (confounders) that may affect the treatment and outcome. We want to estimate the causal effect of the treatment on the outcome; that is, what happens if we intervene?  This effect is estimated by adjusting for the covariates. The talk covers two aspects of using of deep learning for this adjustment.

First, neural network research has focused on \emph{predictive} performance, but our goal is to produce a quality \emph{estimate} of the effect. I'll describe two adaptations to neural net design and training, based on insights from the statistical literature on the estimation of treatment effects. The first is a new architecture, the Dragonnet, that exploits the sufficiency of the propensity score for estimation adjustment. The second is a regularization procedure, targeted regularization, that induces a bias towards estimates that have non-parametrically optimal asymptotic properties. 

Second, I'll describe how to use deep language models (e.g., BERT) for causal inference with text data. The challenge here is that text data is high dimensional, and naive dimension reduction may throw away information required for causal identification. The main insight is that the text representation produced by deep embedding methods suffices for the causal adjustment. 

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