FED-CD: Federated Causal Discovery from Interventional and Observational Data

Amin Abyaneh, Nino Scherrer, Patrick Schwab, Stefan Bauer, Bernhard Schölkopf, Arash Mehrjou

Submitted on 7 November 2022


Causal discovery, the inference of causal relations from data, is a core task of fundamental importance in all scientific domains, and several new machine learning methods for addressing the causal discovery problem have been proposed recently. However, existing machine learning methods for causal discovery typically require that the data used for inference is pooled and available in a centralized location. In many domains of high practical importance, such as in healthcare, data is only available at local data-generating entities (e.g. hospitals in the healthcare context), and cannot be shared across entities due to, among others, privacy and regulatory reasons. In this work, we address the problem of inferring causal structure - in the form of a directed acyclic graph (DAG) - from a distributed data set that contains both observational and interventional data in a privacy-preserving manner by exchanging updates instead of samples. To this end, we introduce a new federated framework, FED-CD, that enables the discovery of global causal structures both when the set of intervened covariates is the same across decentralized entities, and when the set of intervened covariates are potentially disjoint. We perform a comprehensive experimental evaluation on synthetic data that demonstrates that FED-CD enables effective aggregation of decentralized data for causal discovery without direct sample sharing, even when the contributing distributed data sets cover disjoint sets of interventions. Effective methods for causal discovery in distributed data sets could significantly advance scientific discovery and knowledge sharing in important settings, for instance, healthcare, in which sharing of data across local sites is difficult or prohibited.


Subjects: Computer Science - Machine Learning; Computer Science - Multiagent Systems; Statistics - Methodology