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Why machine learning struggles with causality

When you look at the following short video sequence, you can make inferences about causal relations between different elements. For instance, you can see the bat and the baseball player’s arm moving in unison, but you also know that it is the player’s arm that is causing the bat’s movement and not the other way around. You also don’t need to be told that the bat is causing the sudden change in the ball’s direction.

Likewise, you can think about counterfactuals, such as what would happen if the ball flew a bit higher and didn’t hit the bat.

Such inferences come to us humans intuitively. We learn them at a very early age, without being explicitly instructed by anyone and just by observing the world. But for machine learning algorithms, which have managed to outperform humans in complicated tasks such as go and chess, causality remains a challenge. Machine learning algorithms, especially deep neural networks, are especially good at ferreting out subtle patterns in huge sets of data. They can transcribe audio in real-time, label thousands of images and video frames per second, and examine x-ray and MRI scans for cancerous patterns. But they struggle to make simple causal inferences like the ones we just saw in the baseball video above.

In a paper titled “Towards Causal Representation Learning,” researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (Mila), and Google Research, discuss the challenges arising from the lack of causal representations in machine learning models and provide directions for creating artificial intelligence systems that can learn causal representations.

The original article was posted at TechTalks.

Regarding to AI and Causality, Professor Judea Pearl is a distinguished pioneer for developing a theory of causal and counterfactual inference based on structural models. In 2011, Professor Pearl won the Turing Award. In 2020, Michael Dukakis Institute for Leadership and Innovation (MDI) and Boston Global Forum (BGF) also awarded Professor Pearl as World Leader in AI World Society (AIWS). At this moment, Professor Judea is a Mentor of and Head of Modern Causal Inference section, which is one of important