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Invariant Causal Representation Learning for Out-of-Distribution Generalization

Chaochao Lu · Yuhuai Wu · José Miguel Hernández Lobato · Bernhard Schoelkopf


Due to spurious correlations, machine learning systems often fail to generalize to environments whose distributions differ from the ones used at training time. Prior work addressing this, either explicitly or implicitly, attempted to find a data representation that has an invariant relationship with the target. This is done by leveraging a diverse set of training environments to reduce the effect of spurious features and build an invariant predictor. However, these methods have generalization guarantees only when both data representation and classifiers come from a linear model class. We propose invariant Causal Representation Learning (iCaRL), an approach that enables out-of-distribution (OOD) generalization in the nonlinear setting (i.e., nonlinear representations and nonlinear classifiers). It builds upon a practical and general assumption: the prior over the data representation (i.e., a set of latent variables encoding the data) given the target and the environment belongs to general exponential family distributions, i.e., a more flexible conditionally non-factorized prior that can actually capture complicated dependences between the latent variables. Based on this, we show that it is possible to identify the data representation up to simple transformations. We also show that all direct causes of the target can be fully discovered, which further enables us to obtain generalization guarantees in the nonlinear setting. Experiments on both synthetic and real-world datasets demonstrate that our approach outperforms a variety of baseline methods.

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