Towards Causal Inference in Real-World Applications

Figure 1: A workflow for a Bayesian approach to causal structure discovery. In two recent works from our lab, we study the inference and experiment design components of the pipeline.

Causal Inference and Machine Learning

Causality and machine learning have been studied largely independently, but recently there has been significant excitement in the intersection of both fields. One hope is that by inferring causal rather than statistical dependencies, we might be able to design systems that can perform robustly outside of the training environment.

Causal discovery refers to the task of inferring the explicit causal relations among a set of random variables. Currently, many causal discovery algorithms are designed under strong assumptions that may not hold in the complex domains causal discovery is most frequently deployed in e.g., economics, health care, biology. These limitations range from assumptions about the underlying causal system to assumptions about the data collection pipeline.

A Real-World Application: Gene Regulatory Networks in Systems Biology

Let’s look at the task of causal discovery by way of the following example: gene regulatory networks (GRNs).… Read more

How to explore to find a robust control policy?

Figure 1: We propose an algorithm that learns a policy for continuous control tasks even when a worst-case adversary is present.

This is a post for the work Combining Pessimism with Optimism for Robust and Efficient Model-Based Deep Reinforcement Learning (Curi et al., 2021), jointly with Ilija Bogunovic and Andreas Krause, that appeared in ICML 2021. It is a follow-up on Efficient Model-Based reinforcement Learning Through Optimistic Policy Search and Planning (Curi et al., 2020), that appeared in NeuRIPS 2020 (See blog post)


In this work, we address the challenge of finding a robust policy in continuous control tasks. As a motivating example, consider designing a braking system on an autonomous car. As this is a highly complex task, we want to learn a policy that performs this maneuver. One can imagine many real-world conditions and simulate them during training time e.g., road conditions, brightness, tire pressure, laden weight, or actuator wear.… Read more

Sample efficient reward learning for reinforcement learning

Figure 1: The robot needs to learn the user’s food preferences to decide what to collect. We propose a method that can significantly reduce the number of queries necessary by focusing on queries that are informative about which policy is optimal.

Recently, reinforcement learning (RL) has shown impressive performance on tasks with a well-specified reward function, such as Atari games. Unfortunately, a reward function is often not available in the real world. Say you want to train an RL agent to drive a car. What is a good reward function for driving? Often researchers hand-craft complicated reward functions for such tasks, but this is cumbersome and prone to error. More generally, misspecified rewards can lead to unintended and unsafe behavior due to specification gaming.

A promising alternative is to learn a model of the reward from human feedback. By, for example, asking humans to compare trajectories and judge which one solves a task better, we can learn a reward function for tasks that are difficult for humans to specify manually.… Read more