Structural Causal Bandits with Non-Manipulable Variables
Causal knowledge is sought after throughout data-driven fields due to its explanatory power and potential value to inform decision-making. If the targeted system is well-understood in terms of its causal components, one is able to design more precise and surgical interventions so as to bring certain desired outcomes about. The idea of leveraging the causal understanding of a system to improve decision-making has been studied in the literature under the rubric of structural causal bandits (Lee and Bareinboim, 2018). In this setting, (1) pulling an arm corresponds to performing a causal intervention on a set of variables, while (2) the associated rewards are governed by the underlying causal mechanisms. One key assumption of this work is that any observed variable (X) in the system is manipulable, which means that intervening and making do(X = x) is always realizable. In many real-world scenarios, however, this is a too stringent requirement. For instance, while scientific evidence may support that obesity shortens life, it’s not feasible to manipulate obesity directly, but, for example, by decreasing the amount of soda consumption (Pearl, 2018). In this paper, we study a relaxed version of the structural causal bandit problem when not all variables are manipulable. Specifically, we develop a procedure that takes as argument partially specified causal knowledge and identifies the possibly-optimal arms in structural bandits with non-manipulable variables. We further introduce an algorithm that uncovers non-trivial dependence structure among the possibly-optimal arms. Finally, we corroborate our findings with simulations, which shows that MAB solvers enhanced with causal knowledge and leveraging the newly discovered dependence structure among arms consistently outperform causal-insensitive solvers.