Synthetic Combinations: A Causal Inference Framework for Combinatorial Interventions

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

Bibtex Paper


Abhineet Agarwal, Anish Agarwal, Suhas Vijaykumar


We consider a setting where there are $N$ heterogeneous units and $p$ interventions. Our goal is to learn unit-specific potential outcomes for any combination of these $p$ interventions, i.e., $N \times 2^p$ causal parameters. Choosing a combination of interventions is a problem that naturally arises in a variety of applications such as factorial design experiments and recommendation engines (e.g., showing a set of movies that maximizes engagement for a given user). Running $N \times 2^p$ experiments to estimate the various parameters is likely expensive and/or infeasible as $N$ and $p$ grow. Further, with observational data there is likely confounding, i.e., whether or not a unit is seen under a combination is correlated with its potential outcome under that combination. We study this problem under a novel model that imposes latent structure across both units and combinations of interventions. Specifically, we assume latent similarity in potential outcomes across units (i.e., the matrix of potential outcomes is approximately rank $r$) and regularity in how combinations of interventions interact (i.e., the coefficients in the Fourier expansion of the potential outcomes is approximately $s$ sparse). We establish identification for all $N \times 2^p$ parameters despite unobserved confounding. We propose an estimation procedure, Synthetic Combinations, and establish finite-sample consistency under precise conditions on the observation pattern. We show that Synthetic Combinations is able to consistently estimate unit-specific potential outcomes given a total of $\text{poly}(r) \times \left( N + s^2p\right)$ observations. In comparison, previous methods that do not exploit structure across both units and combinations have poorer sample complexity scaling as $\min(N \times s^2p, \ \ r \times (N + 2^p))$.