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Feng Xie, Biwei Huang, Zhengming Chen, Ruichu Cai, Clark Glymour, Zhi Geng, Kun Zhang

We investigate the challenging task of learning causal structure in the presence of latent variables, including locating latent variables and determining their quantity, and identifying causal relationships among both latent and observed variables. To address this, we propose a Generalized Independent Noise (GIN) condition for linear non-Gaussian acyclic causal models that incorporate latent variables, which establishes the independence between a linear combination of certain measured variables and some other measured variables. Specifically, for two observed random vectors $\bf{Y}$ and $\bf{Z}$, GIN holds if and only if $\omega^{\intercal}\mathbf{Y}$ and $\mathbf{Z}$ are independent, where $\omega$ is a non-zero parameter vector determined by the cross-covariance between $\mathbf{Y}$ and $\mathbf{Z}$. We then give necessary and sufficient graphical criteria of the GIN condition in linear non-Gaussian acyclic causal models. Roughly speaking, GIN implies the existence of an exogenous set $\mathcal{S}$ relative to the parent set of $\mathbf{Y}$ (w.r.t. the causal ordering), such that $\mathcal{S}$ d-separates $\mathbf{Y}$ from $\mathbf{Z}$. Interestingly, we find that the independent noise condition (i.e., if there is no confounder, causes are independent of the residual derived from regressing the effect on the causes) can be seen as a special case of GIN. With such a connection between GIN and latent causal structures, we further leverage the proposed GIN condition, together with a well-designed search procedure, to efficiently estimate Linear, Non-Gaussian Latent Hierarchical Models (LiNGLaHs), where latent confounders may also be causally related and may even follow a hierarchical structure. We show that the underlying causal structure of a LiNGLaH is identifiable in light of GIN conditions under mild assumptions. Experimental results show the effectiveness of the proposed approach.

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Ruichu Cai, Zeqin Yang, Weilin Chen, Yuguang Yan, Zhifeng Hao

Estimating causal effects from observational network data is a significant but challenging problem. Existing works in causal inference for observational network data lack an analysis of the generalization bound, which can theoretically provide support for alleviating the complex confounding bias and practically guide the design of learning objectives in a principled manner. To fill this gap, we derive a generalization bound for causal effect estimation in network scenarios by exploiting 1) the reweighting schema based on joint propensity score and 2) the representation learning schema based on Integral Probability Metric (IPM). We provide two perspectives on the generalization bound in terms of reweighting and representation learning, respectively. Motivated by the analysis of the bound, we propose a weighting regression method based on the joint propensity score augmented with representation learning. Extensive experimental studies on two real-world networks with semi-synthetic data demonstrate the effectiveness of our algorithm.

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Yujia Zheng, Biwei Huang, Wei Chen, Joseph Ramsey, Mingming Gong, Ruichu Cai, Shohei Shimizu, Peter Spirtes, Kun Zhang

Causal discovery aims at revealing causal relations from observational data, which is a fundamental task in science and engineering. We describe $\textit{causal-learn}$, an open-source Python library for causal discovery. This library focuses on bringing a comprehensive collection of causal discovery methods to both practitioners and researchers. It provides easy-to-use APIs for non-specialists, modular building blocks for developers, detailed documentation for learners, and comprehensive methods for all. Different from previous packages in R or Java, $\textit{causal-learn}$ is fully developed in Python, which could be more in tune with the recent preference shift in programming languages within related communities. The library is available at https://github.com/py-why/causal-learn.

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Ruichu Cai, Yuequn Liu, Wei Chen, Jie Qiao, Yuguang Yan, Zijian Li, Keli Zhang, Zhifeng Hao

Learning Granger causality from event sequences is a challenging but essential task across various applications. Most existing methods rely on the assumption that event sequences are independent and identically distributed (i.i.d.). However, this i.i.d. assumption is often violated due to the inherent dependencies among the event sequences. Fortunately, in practice, we find these dependencies can be modeled by a topological network, suggesting a potential solution to the non-i.i.d. problem by introducing the prior topological network into Granger causal discovery. This observation prompts us to tackle two ensuing challenges: 1) how to model the event sequences while incorporating both the prior topological network and the latent Granger causal structure, and 2) how to learn the Granger causal structure. To this end, we devise a two-stage unified topological neural Poisson auto-regressive model. During the generation stage, we employ a variant of the neural Poisson process to model the event sequences, considering influences from both the topological network and the Granger causal structure. In the inference stage, we formulate an amortized inference algorithm to infer the latent Granger causal structure. We encapsulate these two stages within a unified likelihood function, providing an end-to-end framework for this task.

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Ruichu Cai, Zhiyi Huang, Wei Chen, Zhifeng Hao, Kun Zhang

Causal discovery with latent confounders is an important but challenging task in many scientific areas. Despite the success of some overcomplete independent component analysis (OICA) based methods in certain domains, they are computationally expensive and can easily get stuck into local optima. We notice that interestingly, by making use of higher-order cumulants, there exists a closed-form solution to OICA in specific cases, e.g., when the mixing procedure follows the One-Latent-Component structure. In light of the power of the closed-form solution to OICA corresponding to the One-Latent-Component structure, we formulate a way to estimate the mixing matrix using the higher-order cumulants, and further propose the testable One-Latent-Component condition to identify the latent variables and determine causal orders. By iteratively removing the share identified latent components, we successfully extend the results on the One-Latent-Component structure to the Multi-Latent-Component structure and finally provide a practical and asymptotically correct algorithm to learn the causal structure with latent variables. Experimental results illustrate the asymptotic correctness and effectiveness of the proposed method.

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Jie Qiao, Ruichu Cai, Siyu Wu, Yu Xiang, Keli Zhang, Zhifeng Hao

Learning causal structure among event types from discrete-time event sequences is a particularly important but challenging task. Existing methods, such as the multivariate Hawkes processes based methods, mostly boil down to learning the so-called Granger causality which assumes that the cause event happens strictly prior to its effect event. Such an assumption is often untenable beyond applications, especially when dealing with discrete-time event sequences in low-resolution; and typical discrete Hawkes processes mainly suffer from identifiability issues raised by the instantaneous effect, i.e., the causal relationship that occurred simultaneously due to the low-resolution data will not be captured by Granger causality. In this work, we propose Structure Hawkes Processes (SHPs) that leverage the instantaneous effect for learning the causal structure among events type in discrete-time event sequence. The proposed method is featured with the minorization-maximization of the likelihood function and a sparse optimization scheme. Theoretical results show that the instantaneous effect is a blessing rather than a curse, and the causal structure is identifiable under the existence of the instantaneous effect. Experiments on synthetic and real-world data verify the effectiveness of the proposed method.

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Yan Zeng, Ruichu Cai, Fuchun Sun, Libo Huang, Zhifeng Hao

While Reinforcement Learning (RL) achieves tremendous success in sequential decision-making problems of many domains, it still faces key challenges of data inefficiency and the lack of interpretability. Interestingly, many researchers have leveraged insights from the causality literature recently, bringing forth flourishing works to unify the merits of causality and address well the challenges from RL. As such, it is of great necessity and significance to collate these Causal Reinforcement Learning (CRL) works, offer a review of CRL methods, and investigate the potential functionality from causality toward RL. In particular, we divide existing CRL approaches into two categories according to whether their causality-based information is given in advance or not. We further analyze each category in terms of the formalization of different models, ranging from the Markov Decision Process (MDP), Partially Observed Markov Decision Process (POMDP), Multi-Arm Bandits (MAB), and Dynamic Treatment Regime (DTR). Moreover, we summarize the evaluation matrices and open sources while we discuss emerging applications, along with promising prospects for the future development of CRL.

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Ruichu Cai, Yuxuan Zhu, Xuexin Chen, Yuan Fang, Min Wu, Jie Qiao, Zhifeng Hao

Explainability of Graph Neural Networks (GNNs) is critical to various GNN applications but remains an open challenge. A convincing explanation should be both necessary and sufficient simultaneously. However, existing GNN explaining approaches focus on only one of the two aspects, necessity or sufficiency, or a trade-off between the two. To search for the most necessary and sufficient explanation, the Probability of Necessity and Sufficiency (PNS) can be applied since it can mathematically quantify the necessity and sufficiency of an explanation. Nevertheless, the difficulty of obtaining PNS due to non-monotonicity and the challenge of counterfactual estimation limits its wide use. To address the non-identifiability of PNS, we resort to a lower bound of PNS that can be optimized via counterfactual estimation, and propose Necessary and Sufficient Explanation for GNN (NSEG) via optimizing that lower bound. Specifically, we employ nearest neighbor matching to generate counterfactual samples for the features, which is different from the random perturbation. In particular, NSEG combines the edges and node features to generate an explanation, where the common edge explanation is a special case of the combined explanation. Empirical study shows that NSEG achieves excellent performance in generating the most necessary and sufficient explanations among a series of state-of-the-art methods.

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Ruichu Cai, Weilin Chen, Zeqin Yang, Shu Wan, Chen Zheng, Xiaoqing Yang, Jiecheng Guo

Estimating long-term causal effects based on short-term surrogates is a significant but challenging problem in many real-world applications, e.g., marketing and medicine. Despite its success in certain domains, most existing methods estimate causal effects in an idealistic and simplistic way - ignoring the causal structure among short-term outcomes and treating all of them as surrogates. However, such methods cannot be well applied to real-world scenarios, in which the partially observed surrogates are mixed with their proxies among short-term outcomes. To this end, we develop our flexible method, Laser, to estimate long-term causal effects in the more realistic situation that the surrogates are observed or have observed proxies.Given the indistinguishability between the surrogates and proxies, we utilize identifiable variational auto-encoder (iVAE) to recover the whole valid surrogates on all the surrogates candidates without the need of distinguishing the observed surrogates or the proxies of latent surrogates. With the help of the recovered surrogates, we further devise an unbiased estimation of long-term causal effects. Extensive experimental results on the real-world and semi-synthetic datasets demonstrate the effectiveness of our proposed method.

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