The Inflation Technique for Causal Inference with Latent Variables

Elie Wolfe, Robert W. Spekkens, Tobias Fritz
2019 Journal of Causal Inference  
The problem of causal inference is to determine if a given probability distribution on observed variables is compatible with some causal structure. The difficult case is when the causal structure includes latent variables. We here introduce the inflation technique for tackling this problem. An inflation of a causal structure is a new causal structure that can contain multiple copies of each of the original variables, but where the ancestry of each copy mirrors that of the original. To every
more » ... ribution of the observed variables that is compatible with the original causal structure, we assign a family of marginal distributions on certain subsets of the copies that are compatible with the inflated causal structure. It follows that compatibility constraints for the inflation can be translated into compatibility constraints for the original causal structure. Even if the constraints at the level of inflation are weak, such as observable statistical independences implied by disjoint causal ancestry, the translated constraints can be strong. We apply this method to derive new inequalities whose violation by a distribution witnesses that distribution's incompatibility with the causal structure (of which Bell inequalities and Pearl's instrumental inequality are prominent examples). We describe an algorithm for deriving all such inequalities for the original causal structure that follow from ancestral independences in the inflation. For three observed binary variables with pairwise common causes, it yields inequalities that are stronger in at least some aspects than those obtainable by existing methods. We also describe an algorithm that derives a weaker set of inequalities but is more efficient. Finally, we discuss which inflations are such that the inequalities one obtains from them remain valid even for quantum (and post-quantum) generalizations of the notion of a causal model.
doi:10.1515/jci-2017-0020 fatcat:2iuxasovk5b2zlk4rz6opcz5na