Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 31 (NeurIPS 2018)
Nathan Kallus, Angela Zhou
We study the problem of learning personalized decision policies from observational data while accounting for possible unobserved confounding in the data-generating process. Unlike previous approaches that assume unconfoundedness, i.e., no unobserved confounders affected both treatment assignment and outcomes, we calibrate policy learning for realistic violations of this unverifiable assumption with uncertainty sets motivated by sensitivity analysis in causal inference. Our framework for confounding-robust policy improvement optimizes the minimax regret of a candidate policy against a baseline or reference "status quo" policy, over an uncertainty set around nominal propensity weights. We prove that if the uncertainty set is well-specified, robust policy learning can do no worse than the baseline, and only improve if the data supports it. We characterize the adversarial subproblem and use efficient algorithmic solutions to optimize over parametrized spaces of decision policies such as logistic treatment assignment. We assess our methods on synthetic data and a large clinical trial, demonstrating that confounded selection can hinder policy learning and lead to unwarranted harm, while our robust approach guarantees safety and focuses on well-evidenced improvement.