16 Papers Accepted To NeurIPS 2023


Researchers from the department presented machine learning and artificial intelligence research at the thirty-sixth Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS 2023).

Outstanding Dataset Paper

ClimSim: An Open Large-Scale Dataset For Training High-Resolution Physics Emulators In Hybrid Multi-Scale Climate Models
Sungduk Yu, Walter Hannah, Liran Peng, Jerry Lin, Mohamed Aziz Bhouri, Ritwik Gupta, Björn Lütjens, Justus C. Will, Gunnar Behrens, Nora Loose, Charles Stern, Tom Beucler, Bryce Harrop, Benjamin Hillman, Andrea Jenney, Savannah L. Ferretti, Nana Liu, Animashree Anandkumar, Noah Brenowitz, Veronika Eyring, Nicholas Geneva, Pierre Gentine, Stephan Mandt, Jaideep Pathak, Akshay Subramaniam, Carl Vondrick, Rose Yu, Laure Zanna, Ryan Abernathey, Fiaz Ahmed, David Bader, Pierre Baldi, Elizabeth Barnes, Christopher Bretherton, Julius Busecke, Peter Caldwell, Wayne Chuang, Yilun Han, YU HUANG, Fernando Iglesias-Suarez, Sanket Jantre, Karthik Kashinath, Marat Khairoutdinov, Thorsten Kurth, Nicholas Lutsko, Po-Lun Ma, Griffin Mooers, J. David Neelin, David Randall, Sara Shamekh, Mark Taylor, Nathan Urban, Janni Yuval, Guang Zhang, Tian Zheng, Mike Pritchard

Modern climate projections lack adequate spatial and temporal resolution due to computational constraints. A consequence is inaccurate and imprecise predictions of critical processes such as storms. Hybrid methods that combine physics with machine learning (ML) have introduced a new generation of higher fidelity climate simulators that can sidestep Moore’s Law by outsourcing compute-hungry, short, high-resolution simulations to ML emulators. However, this hybrid ML-physics simulation approach requires domain-specific treatment and has been inaccessible to ML experts because of lack of training data and relevant, easy-to-use workflows. We present ClimSim, the largest-ever dataset designed for hybrid ML-physics research. It comprises multi-scale climate simulations, developed by a consortium of climate scientists and ML researchers. It consists of 5.7 billion pairs of multivariate input and output vectors that isolate the influence of locally-nested, high-resolution, high-fidelity physics on a host climate simulator’s macro-scale physical state. The dataset is global in coverage, spans multiple years at high sampling frequency, and is designed such that resulting emulators are compatible with downstream coupling into operational climate simulators. We implement a range of deterministic and stochastic regression baselines to highlight the ML challenges and their scoring. The data (https://huggingface.co/datasets/LEAP/ClimSim_high-res) and code (https://leap-stc.github.io/ClimSim) are released openly to support the development of hybrid ML-physics and high-fidelity climate simulations for the benefit of science and society.



Objaverse-XL: A Colossal Universe of 3D Objects
Matt Deitke, Ruoshi Liu, Matthew Wallingford, Huong Ngo, Oscar Michel, Aditya Kusupati, Alan Fan, Christian Laforte, Vikram Voleti, Samir Yitzhak Gadre, Eli VanderBilt, Aniruddha Kembhavi, Carl Vondrick, Georgia Gkioxari, Kiana Ehsani, Ludwig Schmidt, Ali Farhadi

Natural language processing and 2D vision models have attained remarkable proficiency on many tasks primarily by escalating the scale of training data. However, 3D vision tasks have not seen the same progress, in part due to the challenges of acquiring high-quality 3D data. In this work, we present Objaverse-XL, a dataset of over 10 million 3D objects. Our dataset comprises deduplicated 3D objects from a diverse set of sources, including manually designed objects, photogrammetry scans of landmarks and everyday items, and professional scans of historic and antique artifacts. Representing the largest scale and diversity in the realm of 3D datasets, Objaverse-XL enables significant new possibilities for 3D vision. Our experiments demonstrate the improvements enabled with the scale provided by Objaverse-XL. We show that by training Zero123 on novel view synthesis, utilizing over 100 million multi-view rendered images, we achieve strong zero-shot generalization abilities. We hope that releasing Objaverse-XL will enable further innovations in the field of 3D vision at scale.


Causal discovery from observational and interventional data across multiple environments
Adam Li, Amin Jaber, Elias Bareinboim

A fundamental problem in many sciences is the learning of causal structure underlying a system, typically through observation and experimentation. Commonly, one even collects data across multiple domains, such as gene sequencing from different labs, or neural recordings from different species. Although there exist methods for learning the equivalence class of causal diagrams from observational and experimental data, they are meant to operate in a single domain. In this paper, we develop a fundamental approach to structure learning in non-Markovian systems (i.e. when there exist latent confounders) leveraging observational and interventional data collected from multiple domains. Specifically, we start by showing that learning from observational data in multiple domains is equivalent to learning from interventional data with unknown targets in a single domain. But there are also subtleties when considering observational and experimental data. Using causal invariances derived from do-calculus, we define a property called S-Markov that connects interventional distributions from multiple-domains to graphical criterion on a selection diagram. Leveraging the S-Markov property, we introduce a new constraint-based causal discovery algorithm, S-FCI, that can learn from observational and interventional data from different domains. We prove that the algorithm is sound and subsumes existing constraint-based causal discovery algorithms.


A Causal Framework for Decomposing Spurious Variations
Drago Plecko, Elias Bareinboim

One of the fundamental challenges found throughout the data sciences is to explain why things happen in specific ways, or through which mechanisms a certain variable X exerts influences over another variable Y. In statistics and machine learning, significant efforts have been put into developing machinery to estimate correlations across variables efficiently. In causal inference, a large body of literature is concerned with the decomposition of causal effects under the rubric of mediation analysis. However, many variations are spurious in nature, including different phenomena throughout the applied sciences. Despite the statistical power to estimate correlations and the identification power to decompose causal effects, there is still little understanding of the properties of spurious associations and how they can be decomposed in terms of the underlying causal mechanisms. In this manuscript, we develop formal tools for decomposing spurious variations in both Markovian and Semi-Markovian models. We prove the first results that allow a non-parametric decomposition of spurious effects and provide sufficient conditions for the identification of such decompositions. The described approach has several applications, ranging from explainable and fair AI to questions in epidemiology and medicine, and we empirically demonstrate its use on a real-world dataset.


Nonparametric Identifiability of Causal Representations from Unknown Interventions
Julius von Kügelgen, Michel Besserve, Liang Wendong, Luigi Gresele, Armin Kekić, Elias Bareinboim, David Blei, Bernhard Schölkopf

We study causal representation learning, the task of inferring latent causal variables and their causal relations from high-dimensional mixtures of the variables. Prior work relies on weak supervision, in the form of counterfactual pre- and post-intervention views or temporal structure; places restrictive assumptions, such as linearity, on the mixing function or latent causal model; or requires partial knowledge of the generative process, such as the causal graph or intervention targets. We instead consider the general setting in which both the causal model and the mixing function are nonparametric. The learning signal takes the form of multiple datasets, or environments, arising from unknown interventions in the underlying causal model. Our goal is to identify both the ground truth latents and their causal graph up to a set of ambiguities which we show to be irresolvable from interventional data. We study the fundamental setting of two causal variables and prove that the observational distribution and one perfect intervention per node suffice for identifiability, subject to a genericity condition. This condition rules out spurious solutions that involve fine-tuning of the intervened and observational distributions, mirroring similar conditions for nonlinear cause-effect inference. For an arbitrary number of variables, we show that at least one pair of distinct perfect interventional domains per node guarantees identifiability. Further, we demonstrate that the strengths of causal influences among the latent variables are preserved by all equivalent solutions, rendering the inferred representation appropriate for drawing causal conclusions from new data. Our study provides the first identifiability results for the general nonparametric setting with unknown interventions, and elucidates what is possible and impossible for causal representation learning without more direct supervision.


Estimating Causal Effects Identifiable from Combination of Observations and Experiments
Yonghan Jung, Ivan Diaz, Jin Tian, Elias Bareinboim

Learning cause and effect relations is arguably one of the central challenges found throughout the data sciences. Formally, determining whether a collection of observational and interventional distributions can be combined to learn a target causal relation is known as the problem of generalized identification (or g-identification) [Lee et al., 2019]. Although g-identification has been well understood and solved in theory, it turns out to be challenging to apply these results in practice, in particular when considering the estimation of the target distribution from finite samples. In this paper, we develop a new, general estimator that exhibits multiply robustness properties for g-identifiable causal functionals. Specifically, we show that any g-identifiable causal effect can be expressed as a function of generalized multioutcome sequential back-door adjustments that are amenable to estimation. We then construct a corresponding estimator for the g-identification expression that exhibits robustness properties to bias. We analyze the asymptotic convergence properties of the estimator. Finally, we illustrate the use of the proposed estimator in experimental studies. Simulation results corroborate the theory.


Causal Fairness for Outcome Control
Drago Plecko, Elias Bareinboim

As society transitions towards an AI-based decision-making infrastructure, an ever-increasing number of decisions once under control of humans are now delegated to automated systems. Even though such developments make various parts of society more efficient, a large body of evidence suggests that a great deal of care needs to be taken to make such automated decision-making systems fair and equitable, namely, taking into account sensitive attributes such as gender, race, and religion. In this paper, we study a specific decision-making task called outcome control in which an automated system aims to optimize an outcome variable Y while being fair and equitable. The interest in such a setting ranges from interventions related to criminal justice and welfare, all the way to clinical decision-making and public health. In this paper, we first analyze through causal lenses the notion of benefit, which captures how much a specific individual would benefit from a positive decision, counterfactually speaking, when contrasted with an alternative, negative one. We introduce the notion of benefit fairness, which can be seen as the minimal fairness requirement in decision-making, and develop an algorithm for satisfying it. We then note that the benefit itself may be influenced by the protected attribute, and propose causal tools which can be used to analyze this. Finally, if some of the variations of the protected attribute in the benefit are considered as discriminatory, the notion of benefit fairness may need to be strengthened, which leads us to articulating a notion of causal benefit fairness. Using this notion, we develop a new optimization procedure capable of maximizing Y while ascertaining causal fairness in the decision process.



Distribution-Free Statistical Dispersion Control for Societal Applications
Zhun Deng, Thomas Zollo, Jake Snell, Toniann Pitassi, Richard Zemel

Explicit finite-sample statistical guarantees on model performance are an important ingredient in responsible machine learning. Previous work has focused mainly on bounding either the expected loss of a predictor or the probability that an individual prediction will incur a loss value in a specified range. However, for many high-stakes applications, it is crucial to understand and control the dispersion of a loss distribution, or the extent to which different members of a population experience unequal effects of algorithmic decisions. We initiate the study of distribution-free control of statistical dispersion measures with societal implications and propose a simple yet flexible framework that allows us to handle a much richer class of statistical functionals beyond previous work. Our methods are verified through experiments in toxic comment detection, medical imaging, and film recommendation.


Representational Strengths and Limitations of Transformers
Clayton Sanford, Daniel Hsu, Matus Telgarsky

Attention layers, as commonly used in transformers, form the backbone of modern deep learning, yet there is no mathematical description of their benefits and deficiencies as compared with other architectures. In this work we establish both positive and negative results on the representation power of attention layers, with a focus on intrinsic complexity parameters such as width, depth, and embedding dimension. On the positive side, we present a sparse averaging task, where recurrent networks and feedforward networks all have complexity scaling polynomially in the input size, whereas transformers scale merely logarithmically in the input size; furthermore, we use the same construction to show the necessity and role of a large embedding dimension in a transformer. On the negative side, we present a triple detection task, where attention layers in turn have complexity scaling linearly in the input size; as this scenario seems rare in practice, we also present natural variants that can be efficiently solved by attention layers. The proof techniques emphasize the value of communication complexity in the analysis of transformers and related models, and the role of sparse averaging as a prototypical attention task, which even finds use in the analysis of triple detection.


Fast Attention Requires Bounded Entries
Josh Alman, Zhao Song

In modern machine learning, inner product attention computation is a fundamental task for training large language models such as Transformer, GPT-1, BERT, GPT-2, GPT-3 and ChatGPT. Formally, in this problem, one is given as input three matrices Q,K,V∈[−B,B]n×d, and the goal is to construct the matrix Att(Q,K,V):=diag(A1n)−1AV∈ℝn×d, where A=exp(QK⊤/d) is the `attention matrix’, and exp is applied entry-wise. Straightforward methods for this problem explicitly compute the n×n attention matrix A, and hence require time Ω(n2) even when d=no(1) is small.
In this paper, we investigate whether faster algorithms are possible by implicitly making use of the matrix A. We present two results, showing that there is a sharp transition at B=Θ(logn‾‾‾‾‾√).
∙ If d=O(logn) and B=o(logn‾‾‾‾‾√), there is an n1+o(1) time algorithm to approximate Att(Q,K,V) up to 1/poly(n) additive error.
∙ If d=O(logn) and B=Θ(logn‾‾‾‾‾√), assuming the Strong Exponential Time Hypothesis from fine-grained complexity theory, it is impossible to approximate Att(Q,K,V) up to 1/poly(n) additive error in truly subquadratic time n2−Ω(1).
This gives a theoretical explanation for the phenomenon observed in practice that attention computation is much more efficient when the input matrices have smaller entries.


Bypass Exponential Time Preprocessing: Fast Neural Network Training via Weight-Data Correlation Preprocessing
Josh Alman, Jiehao Liang, Zhao Song, Ruizhe Zhang, Danyang Zhuo

Over the last decade, deep neural networks have transformed our society, and they are already widely applied in various machine learning applications. State-of-art deep neural networks are becoming larger in size every year to deliver increasing model accuracy, and as a result, model training consumes substantial computing resources and will only consume more in the future. Using current training methods, in each iteration, to process a data point x∈ℝd in a layer, we need to spend Θ(md) time to evaluate all the m neurons in the layer. This means processing the entire layer takes Θ(nmd) time for n data points. Recent work [Song, Yang and Zhang, NeurIPS 2021] reduces this time per iteration to o(nmd), but requires exponential time to preprocess either the data or the neural network weights, making it unlikely to have practical usage.

In this work, we present a new preprocessing method that simply stores the weight-data correlation in a tree data structure in order to quickly, dynamically detect which neurons fire at each iteration. Our method requires only O(nmd) time in preprocessing and still achieves o(nmd) time per iteration. We complement our new algorithm with a lower bound, proving that assuming a popular conjecture from complexity theory, one could not substantially speed up our algorithm for dynamic detection of firing neurons.


Differentially Private Approximate Near Neighbor Counting in High Dimensions
Alexandr Andoni, Piotr Indyk, Sepideh Mahabadi, Shyam Narayanan

Range counting (e.g., counting the number of data points falling into a given query ball) under differential privacy has been studied extensively. However, the current algorithms for this problem are subject to the following dichotomy. One class of algorithms suffers from an additive error that is a fixed polynomial in the number of points. Another class of algorithms allows for polylogarithmic additive error, but the error grows exponentially in the dimension. To achieve the latter, the problem is relaxed to allow a “fuzzy” definition of the range boundary, e.g., a count of the points in a ball of radius r might also include points in a ball of radius cr for some c > 1.

In this paper, we present an efficient algorithm that offers a sweet spot between these two classes. The algorithm has an additive error that is an arbitrary small power of the data set size, depending on how fuzzy the range boundary is, as well as a small (1 + o(1)) multiplicative error. Crucially, the amount of noise added has no dependence on the dimension. Our algorithm introduces a variant of Locality-Sensitive Hashing, utilizing it in a novel manner.


Variational Inference with Gaussian Score Matching
Chirag Modi, Robert Gower, Charles Margossian, Yuling Yao, David Blei, Lawrence Saul

Variational inference (VI) is a method to approximate the computationally intractable posterior distributions that arise in Bayesian statistics. Typically, VI fits a simple parametric distribution to the target posterior by minimizing an appropriate objective such as the evidence lower bound (ELBO). In this work, we present a new approach to VI based on the principle of score matching, that if two distributions are equal then their score functions (i.e., gradients of the log density) are equal at every point on their support. With this, we develop score matching VI, an iterative algorithm that seeks to match the scores between the variational approximation and the exact posterior. At each iteration, score matching VI solves an inner optimization, one that minimally adjusts the current variational estimate to match the scores at a newly sampled value of the latent variables.

We show that when the variational family is a Gaussian, this inner optimization enjoys a closed form solution, which we call Gaussian score matching VI (GSM-VI). GSM-VI is also a “black box” variational algorithm in that it only requires a differentiable joint distribution, and as such it can be applied to a wide class of models. We compare GSM-VI to black box variational inference (BBVI), which has similar requirements but instead optimizes the ELBO. We study how GSM-VI behaves as a function of the problem dimensionality, the condition number of the target covariance matrix (when the target is Gaussian), and the degree of mismatch between the approximating and exact posterior distribution. We also study GSM-VI on a collection of real-world Bayesian inference problems from the posteriorDB database of datasets and models. In all of our studies we find that GSM-VI is faster than BBVI, but without sacrificing accuracy. It requires 10-100x fewer gradient evaluations to obtain a comparable quality of approximation.


Practical and Asymptotically Exact Conditional Sampling in Diffusion Models
Luhuan Wu, Brian Trippe, Christian Naesseth, David Blei, John Cunningham

Diffusion models have been successful on a range of conditional generation tasks including molecular design and text-to-image generation. However, these achievements have primarily depended on task-specific conditional training or error-prone heuristic approximations. Ideally, a conditional generation method should provide exact samples for a broad range of conditional distributions without requiring task-specific training. To this end, we introduce the Twisted Diffusion Sampler, or TDS. TDS is a sequential Monte Carlo (SMC) algorithm that targets the conditional distributions of diffusion models. The main idea is to use twisting, an SMC technique that enjoys good computational efficiency, to incorporate heuristic approximations without compromising asymptotic exactness. We first find in simulation and on MNIST image inpainting and class-conditional generation tasks that TDS provides a computational statistical trade-off, yielding more accurate approximations with many particles but with empirical improvements over heuristics with as few as two particles. We then turn to motif-scaffolding, a core task in protein design, using a TDS extension to Riemannian diffusion models. On benchmark test cases, TDS allows flexible conditioning criteria and often outperforms the state-of-the-art.


Causal-structure Driven Augmentations for Text OOD Generalization
Amir Feder, Yoav Wald, Claudia Shi, Suchi Saria, David Blei

The reliance of text classifiers on spurious correlations can lead to poor generalization at deployment, raising concerns about their use in safety-critical domains such as healthcare. In this work, we propose to use counterfactual data augmentation, guided by knowledge of the causal structure of the data, to simulate interventions on spurious features and to learn more robust text classifiers. We show that this strategy is appropriate in prediction problems where the label is spuriously correlated with an attribute. Under the assumptions of such problems, we discuss the favorable sample complexity of counterfactual data augmentation, compared to importance re-weighting. Pragmatically, we match examples using auxiliary data, based on diff-in-diff methodology, and use a large language model (LLM) to represent a conditional probability of text. Through extensive experimentation on learning caregiver-invariant predictors of clinical diagnoses from medical narratives and on semi-synthetic data, we demonstrate that our method for simulating interventions improves out-of-distribution (OOD) accuracy compared to baseline invariant learning algorithms.


Evaluating the Moral Beliefs Encoded in LLMs
Nino Scherrer, Claudia Shi, Amir Feder, David Blei

This paper presents a case study on the design, administration, post-processing, and evaluation of surveys on large language models (LLMs). It comprises two components: (1) A statistical method for eliciting beliefs encoded in LLMs. We introduce statistical measures and evaluation metrics that quantify the probability of an LLM “making a choice”, the associated uncertainty, and the consistency of that choice. (2) We apply this method to study what moral beliefs are encoded in different LLMs, especially in ambiguous cases where the right choice is not obvious. We design a large-scale survey comprising 680 high-ambiguity moral scenarios (e.g., “Should I tell a white lie?”) and 687 low-ambiguity moral scenarios (e.g., “Should I stop for a pedestrian on the road?”). Each scenario includes a description, two possible actions, and auxiliary labels indicating violated rules (e.g., “do not kill”). We administer the survey to 28 open- and closed-source LLMs. We find that (a) in unambiguous scenarios, most models “choose” actions that align with commonsense. In ambiguous cases, most models express uncertainty. (b) Some models are uncertain about choosing the commonsense action because their responses are sensitive to the question-wording. (c) Some models reflect clear preferences in ambiguous scenarios. Specifically, closed-source models tend to agree with each other.