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Finding Counterfactually Optimal Action Sequences in Continuous State Spaces
Stratis Tsirtsis · Manuel Gomez-Rodriguez

Humans performing tasks that involve taking a series of multiple dependent actions over time often learn from experience by reflecting on specific cases and points in time, where different actions could have led to significantly better outcomes. While recent machine learning methods to retrospectively analyze sequential decision making processes promise to aid decision makers in identifying such cases, they have focused on environments with finitely many discrete states. However, in many practical applications, the state of the environment is inherently continuous in nature. In this paper, we aim to fill this gap. We start by formally characterizing a sequence of discrete actions and continuous states using finite horizon Markov decision processes and a broad class of bijective structural causal models. Building upon this characterization, we formalize the problem of finding counterfactually optimal action sequences and show that, in general, we cannot expect to solve it in polynomial time. Then, we develop a search method based on the A∗ algorithm that, under a natural form of Lipschitz continuity of the environment’s dynamics, is guaranteed to return the optimal solution to the problem. Experiments on real clinical data show that our method is very efficient in practice, and it has the potential to offer interesting insights for sequential decision making tasks.

Author Information

Stratis Tsirtsis (Max Planck Institute for Software Systems)

Stratis Tsirtsis is a Ph.D. candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems. He is interested in building machine learning systems to inform decisions about individuals who present strategic behavior.

Manuel Gomez-Rodriguez (MPI-SWS)
Manuel Gomez-Rodriguez

Manuel Gomez Rodriguez is a faculty at Max Planck Institute for Software Systems. Manuel develops human-centric machine learning models and algorithms for the analysis, modeling and control of social, information and networked systems. He has received several recognitions for his research, including an outstanding paper award at NeurIPS’13 and a best research paper honorable mention at KDD’10 and WWW’17. He has served as track chair for FAT* 2020 and as area chair for every major conference in machine learning, data mining and the Web. Manuel has co-authored over 50 publications in top-tier conferences (NeurIPS, ICML, WWW, KDD, WSDM, AAAI) and journals (PNAS, Nature Communications, JMLR, PLOS Computational Biology). Manuel holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Carlos III University, a MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, and has received postdoctoral training at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems.

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