Asymptotically Best Causal Effect Identification with Multi-Armed Bandits

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)

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Alan Malek, Silvia Chiappa


This paper considers the problem of selecting a formula for identifying a causal quantity of interest among a set of available formulas. We assume an online setting in which the investigator may alter the data collection mechanism in a data-dependent way with the aim of identifying the formula with lowest asymptotic variance in as few samples as possible. We formalize this setting by using the best-arm-identification bandit framework where the standard goal of learning the arm with the lowest loss is replaced with the goal of learning the arm that will produce the best estimate. We introduce new tools for constructing finite-sample confidence bounds on estimates of the asymptotic variance that account for the estimation of potentially complex nuisance functions, and adapt the best-arm-identification algorithms of LUCB and Successive Elimination to use these bounds. We validate our method by providing upper bounds on the sample complexity and an empirical study on artificially generated data.