Finding Latent Causes in Causal Networks: an Efficient Approach Based on Markov Blankets

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 21 (NIPS 2008)

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Jean-philippe Pellet, André Elisseeff


Causal structure-discovery techniques usually assume that all causes of more than one variable are observed. This is the so-called causal sufficiency assumption. In practice, it is untestable, and often violated. In this paper, we present an efficient causal structure-learning algorithm, suited for causally insufficient data. Similar to algorithms such as IC* and FCI, the proposed approach drops the causal sufficiency assumption and learns a structure that indicates (potential) latent causes for pairs of observed variables. Assuming a constant local density of the data-generating graph, our algorithm makes a quadratic number of conditional-independence tests w.r.t. the number of variables. We show with experiments that our algorithm is comparable to the state-of-the-art FCI algorithm in accuracy, while being several orders of magnitude faster on large problems. We conclude that MBCS* makes a new range of causally insufficient problems computationally tractable.