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Shubhangi Ghosh, Luigi Gresele, Julius von Kügelgen, Michel Besserve, Bernhard Schölkopf

Independent Mechanism Analysis (IMA) seeks to address non-identifiability in nonlinear Independent Component Analysis (ICA) by assuming that the Jacobian of the mixing function has orthogonal columns. As typical in ICA, previous work focused on the case with an equal number of latent components and observed mixtures. Here, we extend IMA to settings with a larger number of mixtures that reside on a manifold embedded in a higher-dimensional than the latent space -- in line with the manifold hypothesis in representation learning. For this setting, we show that IMA still circumvents several non-identifiability issues, suggesting that it can also be a beneficial principle for higher-dimensional observations when the manifold hypothesis holds. Further, we prove that the IMA principle is approximately satisfied with high probability (increasing with the number of observed mixtures) when the directions along which the latent components influence the observations are chosen independently at random. This provides a new and rigorous statistical interpretation of IMA.

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Cian Eastwood, Julius von Kügelgen, Linus Ericsson, Diane Bouchacourt, Pascal Vincent, Bernhard Schölkopf, Mark Ibrahim

Self-supervised representation learning often uses data augmentations to induce some invariance to "style" attributes of the data. However, with downstream tasks generally unknown at training time, it is difficult to deduce a priori which attributes of the data are indeed "style" and can be safely discarded. To address this, we introduce a more principled approach that seeks to disentangle style features rather than discard them. The key idea is to add multiple style embedding spaces where: (i) each is invariant to all-but-one augmentation; and (ii) joint entropy is maximized. We formalize our structured data-augmentation procedure from a causal latent-variable-model perspective, and prove identifiability of both content and (multiple blocks of) style variables. We empirically demonstrate the benefits of our approach on synthetic datasets and then present promising but limited results on ImageNet.

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Dingling Yao, Danru Xu, Sébastien Lachapelle, Sara Magliacane, Perouz Taslakian, Georg Martius, Julius von Kügelgen, Francesco Locatello

We present a unified framework for studying the identifiability of representations learned from simultaneously observed views, such as different data modalities. We allow a partially observed setting in which each view constitutes a nonlinear mixture of a subset of underlying latent variables, which can be causally related. We prove that the information shared across all subsets of any number of views can be learned up to a smooth bijection using contrastive learning and a single encoder per view. We also provide graphical criteria indicating which latent variables can be identified through a simple set of rules, which we refer to as identifiability algebra. Our general framework and theoretical results unify and extend several previous works on multi-view nonlinear ICA, disentanglement, and causal representation learning. We experimentally validate our claims on numerical, image, and multi-modal data sets. Further, we demonstrate that the performance of prior methods is recovered in different special cases of our setup. Overall, we find that access to multiple partial views enables us to identify a more fine-grained representation, under the generally milder assumption of partial observability.

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Klaus-Rudolf Kladny, Julius von Kügelgen, Bernhard Schölkopf, Michael Muehlebach

Counterfactuals can offer valuable insights by answering what would have been observed under altered circumstances, conditional on a factual observation. Whereas the classical interventional interpretation of counterfactuals has been studied extensively, backtracking constitutes a less studied alternative the backtracking principle has emerged as an alternative philosophy where all causal laws are kept intact. In the present work, we introduce a practical method for computing backtracking counterfactuals in structural causal models that consist of deep generative components. To this end, we impose conditions on the structural assignments that enable the generation of counterfactuals by solving a tractable constrained optimization problem in the structured latent space of a causal model. Our formulation also facilitates a comparison with methods in the field of counterfactual explanations. Compared to these, our method represents a versatile, modular and causally compliant alternative. We demonstrate these properties experimentally on a modified version of MNIST and CelebA.

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Cian Eastwood, Shashank Singh, Andrei Liviu Nicolicioiu, Marin Vlastelica, Julius von Kügelgen, Bernhard Schölkopf

To avoid failures on out-of-distribution data, recent works have sought to extract features that have a stable or invariant relationship with the label across domains, discarding the "spurious" or unstable features whose relationship with the label changes across domains. However, unstable features often carry complementary information about the label that could boost performance if used correctly in the test domain. Our main contribution is to show that it is possible to learn how to use these unstable features in the test domain without labels. In particular, we prove that pseudo-labels based on stable features provide sufficient guidance for doing so, provided that stable and unstable features are conditionally independent given the label. Based on this theoretical insight, we propose Stable Feature Boosting (SFB), an algorithm for: (i) learning a predictor that separates stable and conditionally-independent unstable features; and (ii) using the stable-feature predictions to adapt the unstable-feature predictions in the test domain. Theoretically, we prove that SFB can learn an asymptotically-optimal predictor without test-domain labels. Empirically, we demonstrate the effectiveness of SFB on real and synthetic data.

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Klaus-Rudolf Kladny, Julius von Kügelgen, Bernhard Schölkopf, Michael Muehlebach

We study causal effect estimation from a mixture of observational and interventional data in a confounded linear regression model with multivariate treatments. We show that the statistical efficiency in terms of expected squared error can be improved by combining estimators arising from both the observational and interventional setting. To this end, we derive methods based on matrix weighted linear estimators and prove that our methods are asymptotically unbiased in the infinite sample limit. This is an important improvement compared to the pooled estimator using the union of interventional and observational data, for which the bias only vanishes if the ratio of observational to interventional data tends to zero. Studies on synthetic data confirm our theoretical findings. In settings where confounding is substantial and the ratio of observational to interventional data is large, our estimators outperform a Stein-type estimator and various other baselines.

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Julius von Kügelgen, Michel Besserve, Wendong Liang, Luigi Gresele, Armin Kekić, Elias Bareinboim, David M. Blei, Bernhard Schölkopf

We study causal representation learning, the task of inferring latent causal variables and their causal relations from high-dimensional functions ("mixtures") of the variables. Prior work relies on weak supervision, in the form of counterfactual pre- and post-intervention views or temporal structure; places restrictive assumptions, such as linearity, on the mixing function or latent causal model; or requires partial knowledge of the generative process, such as the causal graph or the intervention targets. We instead consider the general setting in which both the causal model and the mixing function are nonparametric. The learning signal takes the form of multiple datasets, or environments, arising from unknown interventions in the underlying causal model. Our goal is to identify both the ground truth latents and their causal graph up to a set of ambiguities which we show to be irresolvable from interventional data. We study the fundamental setting of two causal variables and prove that the observational distribution and one perfect intervention per node suffice for identifiability, subject to a genericity condition. This condition rules out spurious solutions that involve fine-tuning of the intervened and observational distributions, mirroring similar conditions for nonlinear cause-effect inference. For an arbitrary number of variables, we show that two distinct paired perfect interventions per node guarantee identifiability. Further, we demonstrate that the strengths of causal influences among the latent variables are preserved by all equivalent solutions, rendering the inferred representation appropriate for drawing causal conclusions from new data. Our study provides the first identifiability results for the general nonparametric setting with unknown interventions, and elucidates what is possible and impossible for causal representation learning without more direct supervision.

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Wendong Liang, Armin Kekić, Julius von Kügelgen, Simon Buchholz, Michel Besserve, Luigi Gresele, Bernhard Schölkopf

Independent Component Analysis (ICA) aims to recover independent latent variables from observed mixtures thereof. Causal Representation Learning (CRL) aims instead to infer causally related (thus often statistically dependent) latent variables, together with the unknown graph encoding their causal relationships. We introduce an intermediate problem termed Causal Component Analysis (CauCA). CauCA can be viewed as a generalization of ICA, modelling the causal dependence among the latent components, and as a special case of CRL. In contrast to CRL, it presupposes knowledge of the causal graph, focusing solely on learning the unmixing function and the causal mechanisms. Any impossibility results regarding the recovery of the ground truth in CauCA also apply for CRL, while possibility results may serve as a stepping stone for extensions to CRL. We characterize CauCA identifiability from multiple datasets generated through different types of interventions on the latent causal variables. As a corollary, this interventional perspective also leads to new identifiability results for nonlinear ICA -- a special case of CauCA with an empty graph -- requiring strictly fewer datasets than previous results. We introduce a likelihood-based approach using normalizing flows to estimate both the unmixing function and the causal mechanisms, and demonstrate its effectiveness through extensive synthetic experiments in the CauCA and ICA setting.

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Jack Brady, Roland S. Zimmermann, Yash Sharma, Bernhard Schölkopf, Julius von Kügelgen, Wieland Brendel

Learning structured representations of the visual world in terms of objects promises to significantly improve the generalization abilities of current machine learning models. While recent efforts to this end have shown promising empirical progress, a theoretical account of when unsupervised object-centric representation learning is possible is still lacking. Consequently, understanding the reasons for the success of existing object-centric methods as well as designing new theoretically grounded methods remains challenging. In the present work, we analyze when object-centric representations can provably be learned without supervision. To this end, we first introduce two assumptions on the generative process for scenes comprised of several objects, which we call compositionality and irreducibility. Under this generative process, we prove that the ground-truth object representations can be identified by an invertible and compositional inference model, even in the presence of dependencies between objects. We empirically validate our results through experiments on synthetic data. Finally, we provide evidence that our theory holds predictive power for existing object-centric models by showing a close correspondence between models' compositionality and invertibility and their empirical identifiability.

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Armin Kekić, Jonas Dehning, Luigi Gresele, Julius von Kügelgen, Viola Priesemann, Bernhard Schölkopf

Early on during a pandemic, vaccine availability is limited, requiring prioritisation of different population groups. Evaluating vaccine allocation is therefore a crucial element of pandemics response. In the present work, we develop a model to retrospectively evaluate age-dependent counterfactual vaccine allocation strategies against the COVID-19 pandemic. To estimate the effect of allocation on the expected severe-case incidence, we employ a simulation-assisted causal modelling approach which combines a compartmental infection-dynamics simulation, a coarse-grained, data-driven causal model and literature estimates for immunity waning. We compare Israel's implemented vaccine allocation strategy in 2021 to counterfactual strategies such as no prioritisation, prioritisation of younger age groups or a strict risk-ranked approach; we find that Israel's implemented strategy was indeed highly effective. We also study the marginal impact of increasing vaccine uptake for a given age group and find that increasing vaccinations in the elderly is most effective at preventing severe cases, whereas additional vaccinations for middle-aged groups reduce infections most effectively. Due to its modular structure, our model can easily be adapted to study future pandemics. We demonstrate this flexibility by investigating vaccine allocation strategies for a pandemic with characteristics of the Spanish Flu. Our approach thus helps evaluate vaccination strategies under the complex interplay of core epidemic factors, including age-dependent risk profiles, immunity waning, vaccine availability and spreading rates.

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