Causal Discovery and Hidden Driving Force Estimation from Nonstationary/Heterogeneous Data

by   Biwei Huang, et al.

It is commonplace to encounter nonstationary or heterogeneous data. Such a distribution shift feature presents both challenges and opportunities for causal discovery, of which the underlying generating process changes over time or across domains. In this paper, we develop a principled framework for causal discovery from such data, called Constraint-based causal Discovery from NOnstationary/heterogeneous Data (CD-NOD), which addresses two important questions. First, we propose an enhanced constraint-based procedure to detect variables whose local mechanisms change and recover the skeleton of the causal structure over observed variables. Second, we present a way to determine causal orientations by making use of independent changes in the data distribution implied by the underlying causal model, benefiting from information carried by changing distributions. After learning the causal structure, next, we investigate how to efficiently estimate the `driving force' of the nonstationarity of a causal mechanism. That is, we aim to extract from data a low-dimensional and interpretable representation of changes. The proposed methods are totally nonparametric, with no restrictions on data distributions and causal mechanisms, and do not rely on window segmentation. Furthermore, we find that nonstationarity benefits causal structure identification with particular types of confounders. Finally, we show the tight connection between nonstationarity/heterogeneity and soft intervention in causal discovery. Experimental results on various synthetic and real-world data sets (task-fMRI and stock data) are presented to demonstrate the efficacy of the proposed methods.


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