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On the Tractability of Neural Causal Inference

Matej Zecevic; Devendra Singh Dhami; Kristian Kersting
In: Computing Research Repository eprint Journal (CoRR), Vol. abs/2110.12052, Pages 0-10, arXiv, 2021.


Neurally-parameterized Structural Causal Models in the Pearlian notion to causality, referred to as NCM, were recently introduced as a step towards next-generation learning systems. However, said NCM are only concerned with the learning aspect of causal inference but totally miss out on the architecture aspect. That is, actual causal inference within NCM is intractable in that the NCM won't return an answer to a query in polynomial time. This insight follows as corollary to the more general statement on the intractability of arbitrary SCM parameterizations, which we prove in this work through classical 3-SAT reduction. Since future learning algorithms will be required to deal with both high dimensional data and highly complex mechanisms governing the data, we ultimately believe work on tractable inference for causality to be decisive. We also show that not all ``causal'' models are created equal. More specifically, there are models capable of answering causal queries that are not SCM, which we refer to as emphpartially causal models (PCM). We provide a tabular taxonomy in terms of tractability properties for all of the different model families, namely correlation-based, PCM and SCM. To conclude our work, we also provide some initial ideas on how to overcome parts of the intractability of causal inference with SCM by showing an example of how parameterizing an SCM with SPN modules can at least allow for tractable mechanisms. We hope that our impossibility result alongside the taxonomy for tractability in causal models can raise awareness for this novel research direction since achieving success with causality in real world downstream tasks will not only depend on learning correct models as we also require having the practical ability to gain access to model inferences.

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