Learning Causal Graphs with Small Interventions

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 28 (NIPS 2015)

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Karthikeyan Shanmugam, Murat Kocaoglu, Alexandros G. Dimakis, Sriram Vishwanath


We consider the problem of learning causal networks with interventions, when each intervention is limited in size under Pearl's Structural Equation Model with independent errors (SEM-IE). The objective is to minimize the number of experiments to discover the causal directions of all the edges in a causal graph. Previous work has focused on the use of separating systems for complete graphs for this task. We prove that any deterministic adaptive algorithm needs to be a separating system in order to learn complete graphs in the worst case. In addition, we present a novel separating system construction, whose size is close to optimal and is arguably simpler than previous work in combinatorics. We also develop a novel information theoretic lower bound on the number of interventions that applies in full generality, including for randomized adaptive learning algorithms. For general chordal graphs, we derive worst case lower bounds on the number of interventions. Building on observations about induced trees, we give a new deterministic adaptive algorithm to learn directions on any chordal skeleton completely. In the worst case, our achievable scheme is an $\alpha$-approximation algorithm where $\alpha$ is the independence number of the graph. We also show that there exist graph classes for which the sufficient number of experiments is close to the lower bound. In the other extreme, there are graph classes for which the required number of experiments is multiplicatively $\alpha$ away from our lower bound. In simulations, our algorithm almost always performs very close to the lower bound, while the approach based on separating systems for complete graphs is significantly worse for random chordal graphs.