Skip to yearly menu bar Skip to main content


Oral 1D

Halle A 3

Moderator: Manzil Zaheer

Tue 7 May 1 a.m. PDT — 1:45 a.m. PDT
Chat is not available.

Tue 7 May 1:00 - 1:15 PDT

Gene Regulatory Network Inference in the Presence of Dropouts: a Causal View

HAOYUE DAI · Ignavier Ng · Gongxu Luo · Peter Spirtes · Petar Stojanov · Kun Zhang

Gene regulatory network inference (GRNI) is a challenging problem, particularly owing to the presence of zeros in single-cell RNA sequencing data: some are biological zeros representing no gene expression, while some others are technical zeros arising from the sequencing procedure (aka dropouts), which may bias GRNI by distorting the joint distribution of the measured gene expressions. Existing approaches typically handle dropout error via imputation, which may introduce spurious relations as the true joint distribution is generally unidentifiable. To tackle this issue, we introduce a causal graphical model to characterize the dropout mechanism, namely, Causal Dropout Model. We provide a simple yet effective theoretical result: interestingly, the conditional independence (CI) relations in the data with dropouts, after deleting the samples with zero values (regardless if technical or not) for the conditioned variables, are asymptotically identical to the CI relations in the original data without dropouts. This particular test-wise deletion procedure, in which we perform CI tests on the samples without zeros for the conditioned variables, can be seamlessly integrated with existing structure learning approaches including constraint-based and greedy score-based methods, thus giving rise to a principled framework for GRNI in the presence of dropouts. We further show that the causal dropout model can be validated from data, and many existing statistical models to handle dropouts fit into our model as specific parametric instances. Empirical evaluation on synthetic, curated, and real-world experimental transcriptomic data comprehensively demonstrate the efficacy of our method.

Tue 7 May 1:15 - 1:30 PDT

Honorable Mention
Robust agents learn causal world models

Jonathan Richens · Tom Everitt

It has long been hypothesised that causal reasoning plays a fundamental role in robust and general intelligence. However, it is not known if agents must learn causal models in order to generalise to new domains, or if other inductive biases are sufficient. We answer this question, showing that any agent capable of satisfying a regret bound for a large set of distributional shifts must have learned an approximate causal model of the data generating process, which converges to the true causal model for optimal agents. We discuss the implications of this result for several research areas including transfer learning and causal inference.