Deep Structural Causal Models for Tractable Counterfactual Inference

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Nick Pawlowski, Daniel Coelho de Castro, Ben Glocker


We formulate a general framework for building structural causal models (SCMs) with deep learning components. The proposed approach employs normalising flows and variational inference to enable tractable inference of exogenous noise variables - a crucial step for counterfactual inference that is missing from existing deep causal learning methods. Our framework is validated on a synthetic dataset built on MNIST as well as on a real-world medical dataset of brain MRI scans. Our experimental results indicate that we can successfully train deep SCMs that are capable of all three levels of Pearl's ladder of causation: association, intervention, and counterfactuals, giving rise to a powerful new approach for answering causal questions in imaging applications and beyond.