K-Nearest-Neighbor Local Sampling Based Conditional Independence Testing

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Shuai Li, Yingjie Zhang, Hongtu Zhu, Christina Wang, Hai Shu, Ziqi Chen, Zhuoran Sun, Yanfeng Yang


Conditional independence (CI) testing is a fundamental task in statistics and machine learning, but its effectiveness is hindered by the challenges posed by high-dimensional conditioning variables and limited data samples. This article introduces a novel testing approach to address these challenges and enhance control of the type I error while achieving high power under alternative hypotheses. The proposed approach incorporates a computationally efficient classifier-based conditional mutual information (CMI) estimator, capable of capturing intricate dependence structures among variables. To approximate a distribution encoding the null hypothesis, a $k$-nearest-neighbor local sampling strategy is employed. An important advantage of this approach is its ability to operate without assumptions about distribution forms or feature dependencies. Furthermore, it eliminates the need to derive asymptotic null distributions for the estimated CMI and avoids dataset splitting, making it particularly suitable for small datasets. The method presented in this article demonstrates asymptotic control of the type I error and consistency against all alternative hypotheses. Extensive analyses using both synthetic and real data highlight the computational efficiency of the proposed test. Moreover, it outperforms existing state-of-the-art methods in terms of type I and II errors, even in scenarios with high-dimensional conditioning sets. Additionally, the proposed approach exhibits robustness in the presence of heavy-tailed data.