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  • Tutorial on Causal inference - conditional independences and beyond

    Machine learning has traditionally been focused on prediction. Given observations that have been generated by an unknown stochastic dependency, the goal is to infer a law that will be able to correctly predict future observations generated by the same dependency. In contrast to this goal, causal inference tries to infer the causal structure underlying the observed dependencies. More precisely, one tries to infer the behavior of a system under interventions without performing them, which does not fit into any traditional prediction scenario. Apart from the fact that it is still debated whether this is possible at all, it is a priori not clear, given that it is, why machine learning tools should be helpful for this task.

    Since the Eighties there has been a community of researchers, mostly from statistics, philosophy, and computer science who have developed methods aiming at inferring causal relationships from observational data. The pioneering work of Glymour, Scheines, Spirtes, and Pearl describes assumptions that link conditional statistical dependences to causality, which then renders many causal inference problems solvable. The typical task, which is solved by the corresponding algorithms, reads: given observations from the joint distribution on the variables X1,...,Xn with n ≥ 3, infer the causal directed acyclic graph (or parts of it).

    Recently, this work has been complemented by several researchers from machine learning who described methods that do not rely on conditional independences alone, but employ other properties of joint probability distributions. These methods use established tools of machine learning like, for instance, regression and reproducing kernel Hilbert spaces. In contrast to the above approaches, the causal direction can sometimes be inferred when only two variables are observed. Remarkably, this can be helpful for more traditional machine learning tasks like prediction under changing background conditions, because the task has different solutions depending on whether the predicted variable is the cause or the effect.


    - Introductory remarks: causal dependences versus statistical dependences
    - Independence based causal inference: assumptions/algorithms/limitations
    - New inference principles via restricting model classes
    - Foundation of new inference rules by algorithmic information theory
    - How machine learning can benefit from causal inference

  • Tutorial on Statistical Learning Theory in Reinforcement Learning and Approximate Dynamic Programming

    Many interesting sequential decision-making tasks can be formulated as reinforcement learning (RL) problems. In a RL problem, an agent interacts with a dynamic, stochastic, and incompletely known environment, with the goal of finding an action-selection strategy, or policy, to maximize some measure of its long-term performance. Dynamic programming (DP) algorithms are the most powerful tools to solve a RL problem, i.e., to find an optimal policy. However, these algorithms guarantee to find an optimal policy only if the environment (i.e., the dynamics and the rewards) is completely known and the size of the state and action spaces are not too large. When one of these conditions is violated (e.g., the only information about the environment is of the form of samples of transitions and rewards), approximate algorithms are needed, and thus, DP methods turn to approximate dynamic programming (ADP) and RL algorithms (while the term RL is more often used in the AI and machine learning community, ADP is more common in the field of operations research). In this case, the convergence and performance guarantees of the standard DP algorithms are no longer valid, and the main theoretical challenge is to study the performance of ADP and RL algorithms.

    Statistical learning theory (SLT) has been fundamental in understanding the statistical properties of the algorithms developed in machine learning. In particular, SLT has explained the interaction between the process generating the samples and the hypothesis space used by the learning algorithm, and shown when and how-well classification and regression problems can be solved. These results also proved to be particularly useful in dimensioning the machine learning problems (i.e., number of samples, complexity of the hypothesis space) and tuning the parameters of the algorithms (e.g., the regularizer in regularized methods).

    In recent years, SLT tools have been used to study the performance of batch versions of RL and ADP algorithms (in the batch version of RL and ADP, v.s. incremental or online versions of these algorithms, a sampling policy is used to build a training set for the learning algorithm) with the objective of deriving finite-sample bounds on the performance loss (w.r.t. the optimal policy) of the policy learned by these methods. Such an objective requires to effectively combine SLT tools with the ADP algorithms, and to show how the error is propagated through the iterations of these iterative algorithms.

    The main objective of this tutorial is to strengthen the links between ADP and SLT. More specifically, our goal is two-fold: 1) to raise the awareness of the RL and ADP communities with regard to the potential benefits of the theoretical analysis of their algorithms for the advancement of these fields, and 2) to introduce the potential theoretical problems in sequential decision-making to the researchers in the field of SLT. An introduction to ADP methods will be given, tools from SLT needed in the analysis of these methods will be introduced, followed by an overview of the existing results. The properties of these results and how they may help us in tuning the algorithms will be discussed, the results will be compared with those in supervised learning, and the potential open problems in this area will be highlighted.

  • ICML 2012 Invited Talks

    Invited talks from ICML 2012 conference

  • Object, functional and structured data: towards next generation kernel-based methods - ICML 2012 Workshop

    This workshop concerns analysis and prediction of complex data such as objects, functions and structures. It aims to discuss various ways to extend machine learning and statistical inference to these data and especially to complex outputs prediction. A special attention will be paid to operator-valued kernels and tools for prediction in infinite dimensional space.

  • Inferning 2012: ICML Workshop on interaction between Inference and Learning

    This workshop studies the interactions between algorithms that learn a model, and algorithms that use the resulting model parameters for inference. These interactions are studied from two perspectives.

    The first perspective studies how the choice of an inference algorithm influences the parameters the model ultimately learns. For example, many parameter estimation algorithms require inference as a subroutine. Consequently, when we are faced with models for which exact inference is expensive, we must use an approximation instead: MCMC sampling, belief propagation, beam-search, etc. On some problems these approximations yield superior models, yet on others, they fail catastrophically. We invite studies that analyze (both empirically and theoretically) the impact of approximate inference on model learning. How does approximate inference alter the learning objective? Affect generalization? Influence convergence properties? Further, does the behavior of inference change as learning continues to improve the quality of the model?

    A second perspective from which we study these interactions is by considering how the learning objective and model parameters can impact both the quality and performance of inference during “test time.” These unconventional approaches to learning combine generalization to unseen data with other desiderata such as fast inference. For example, work in structured cascades learns model for which greedy, efficient inference can be performed at test time while still maintaining accuracy guarantees. Similarly, there has been work that learns operators for efficient search-based inference. There has also been work that incorporates resource constraints on running time and memory into the learning objective.

    This workshop brings together practitioners from different fields (information extraction, machine vision, natural language processing, computational biology, etc.) in order to study a unified framework for understanding and formalizing the interactions between learning and inference. The following is a partial list of relevant keywords for the workshop:

    • learning with approximate inference
    • cost-aware learning
    • learning sparse structures
    • pseudo-likelihood training
    • contrastive divergence
    • piecewise training
    • coarse to fine learning and inference
    • scoring matching
    • stochastic approximation
    • incremental gradient methods
    • and more ...

  • ICML 2012 Workshop on Representation Learning

    In this workshop we consider the question of how we can learn meaningful and useful representations of the data. There has been a great deal of recent work on this topic, much of it emerging from researchers interested in training deep architectures. Deep learning methods such as deep belief networks, sparse coding-based methods, convolutional networks, and deep Boltzmann machines, have shown promise as a means of learning invariant representations of data and have already been successfully applied to a variety of tasks in computer vision, audio processing, natural language processing, information retrieval, and robotics. Bayesian nonparametric methods and other hierarchical graphical model-based approaches have also been recently shown the ability to learn rich representations of data.
    By bringing together researchers with diverse expertise and perspectives but who are all interested in the question of how to learn data representations, we will explore the challenges and promising directions for future research in this area.

  • ICML 2012 Workshop on New Challenges for Exploration & Exploitation 3

    The goal of this challenge is to build an algorithm that learns efficiently a policy to serve news articles on a web site. At each iteration of the evaluation process, you will be asked to pick an article from a list given a visitor (136 binary features + a timestamp). To build a smart algorithm, you might want to balance carefully exploration and exploitation and pay close attention to the “age” of the news articles (among other things of course). A quick look on the leaderboard is enough to figure out why that last point matters. It is the overall CTR (click through rate) of your algorithm that will be taken into account to rank it on the leaderboard.

  • Conference on Learning Theory

    The 25th Conference on Learning Theory (COLT 2012) was held in Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 25–June 27, 2012. COLT is supported by the Association for Computational Learning (ACL).

  • Plenary talks from ICRA 2012

    Plenary talks presented at IEEE ICRA 2012.