Papers That Explore Novel Methods to Use Artificial Intelligence Accepted to AAAI 21

Research from the department was accepted to the 35th AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence. The conference promotes research in artificial intelligence (AI) and scientific exchange among AI researchers, practitioners, scientists, and engineers in affiliated disciplines. 

Automated Symbolic Law Discovery: A Computer Vision Approach
Hengrui Xing Columbia University, Ansaf Salleb-Aouissi Columbia University, Nakul Verma Columbia University

One of the most exciting applications of modern artificial intelligence is to automatically discover scientific laws from experimental data. This is not a trivial problem as it involves searching for a complex mathematical relationship over a large set of explanatory variables and operators that can be combined in an infinite number of ways. Inspired by the incredible success of deep learning in computer vision, the authors tackle this problem by adapting various successful network architectures into the symbolic law discovery pipeline. The novelty of this new approach is in (1) encoding the input data as an image with super-resolution, (2) developing an appropriate deep network pipeline, and (3) predicting the importance of each mathematical operator from the relationship image. This allowed to prior the exponentially large search with the predicted importance of the symbolic operators, which can significantly accelerate the discovery process.

The model was then applied to a variety of plausible relationships—both simulated and from physics and mathematics domains—involving different dimensions and constituents. The authors show that their model is able to identify the underlying operators from data, achieving a high accuracy and AUC (91% and 0.96 on average resp.) for systems with as many as ten independent variables. Their method significantly outperforms the current state of the art in terms of data fitting (R^2), discovery rate (recovering the true relationship), and succinctness (output formula complexity). The discovered equations can be seen as first drafts of scientific laws that can be helpful to the scientists for (1) hypothesis building, and (2) understanding the complex underlying structure of the studied phenomena. This novel approach holds a real promise to help speed up the rate of scientific discovery.


Bounding Causal Effects on Continuous Outcome 
Junzhe Zhang Columbia University, Elias Bareinboim Columbia University

One of the most common methods for policy learning used throughout the empirical sciences is the use of randomization of the treatment assignment. This method is considered the gold standard within many disciplines and can be traced back, at least, to Fisher (Fisher 1935) and Neyman (Neyman 1923). Whenever human subjects are at the center of the experiment, unfortunately, issues of non-compliance arise. Namely, subjects do not necessarily follow the experimental protocol and end up doing what they want. It is well-understood that under such conditions, unobserved confounding bias will emerge. For instance, subjects who did not comply with the treatment assignment may be precisely those who would have responded adversely to the treatment. Therefore, the actual causal effects of the treatment, when it is applied uniformly to the population, might be substantially less effective than the data reveals. Moreover, since one does not observe how subjects decide/respond to the realized treatment, the actual treatment effects are not uniquely computably from the collected data, called non-identifiable.

Robins (1989) and Manski (1990) derived the first informative bounds over the causal effects from studies with imperfect compliance under a set of non-parametric assumptions called instrumental variables (IV). In their seminal work, Balke and Pearl (1994a, 1997) improved earlier results by employing an algebraic method to derive analytic expressions of the causal bounds, which are provably optimal. However, this approach assumes the primary outcome to be discrete and finite. Solving such a program could be intractable when high-dimensional context variables are present.

This paper presents novel non-parametric methods to bound causal effects on the continuous outcome from studies with imperfect compliance. These methods could be generalized to settings with a high-dimensional context. Perhaps surprisingly, this paper introduced a latent data representation that could characterize all constraints on the observational and interventional distributions implied by IV assumptions, even when the primary outcome is continuous. Such representation allows one to reduce the original bounding problem to a series of linear programs. Solve these programs, therefore, leads to tight causal bounds.


Estimating Identifiable Causal Effects through Double Machine Learning
Yonghan Jung, Jin Tian, Elias Bareinboim Columbia University

Learning causal effects from observational data is a pervasive challenge found throughout the data-intensive sciences. General methods of determining the identifiability of causal effect from a combination of observational data and causal knowledge about the underlying system have been well-understood in theory. In practice, however, there are still challenges to estimating identifiable causal functionals from finite samples. Recently, a novel approach, named double/debiased machine learning (DML) (Chernozhukov et al. 2018), has been proposed to learn parameters leveraging modern machine learning techniques, which are both robust to model misspecification (‘doubly robust’) and slow convergence (‘debiased’). Still, DML has only been used for causal estimation in settings when the back-door condition (also known as conditional ignorability) holds.

This paper aims to bridge this gap by developing a general class of estimators for any identifiable causal functionals that exhibit robustness properties of DML estimators, which the authors called ‘DML-ID.’ In particular, they provide a complete procedure for deriving an essential ingredient of the DML estimator called an influence function (IF) and construct a general class of estimators based on the IF. This means that one can estimate any causal functional and enjoy two robustness properties,  doubly robustness and debiasedness.


Ref-NMS: Breaking Proposal Bottlenecks in Two-Stage Referring Expression Grounding 
Long Chen  Tencent AI Lab, Wenbo Ma  Zhejiang University, Jun Xiao  Zhejiang University, Hanwang Zhang Nanyang Technological University, Shih-Fu Chang Columbia University

The prevailing framework for solving referring expression grounding is based on a two-stage process: 1) detecting proposals with an object detector and 2) grounding the referent to one of the proposals. Existing two-stage solutions mostly focus on the grounding step, which aims to align the expressions with the proposals. 

In this paper, the researchers argue that these methods overlook an obvious mismatch between the roles of proposals in the two stages: they generate proposals solely based on the detection confidence (i.e., expression-agnostic), hoping that the proposals contain all right instances in the expression (i.e., expression-aware). Due to this mismatch, current two-stage methods suffer from a severe performance drop between detected and ground-truth proposals. 

The paper proposes Ref-NMS, which is the first method to yield expression-aware proposals at the first stage. Ref-NMS regards all nouns in the expression as critical objects, and introduces a lightweight module to predict a score for aligning each box with a critical object. These scores can guide the NMS operation to filter out the boxes irrelevant to the expression, increasing the recall of critical objects, resulting in a significantly improved grounding performance. 

Since RefNMS is agnostic to the grounding step, it can be easily integrated into any state-of-the-art two-stage method. Extensive ablation studies on several backbones, benchmarks, and tasks consistently demonstrate the superiority of Ref-NMS. Codes are available at: