Systematic Evaluation of Causal Discovery in Visual Model Based Reinforcement Learning

Inducing causal relationships from observations is a classic problem in machine learning. Most work in causality starts from the premise that the causal variables themselves have known semantics or are observed. However, for AI agents such as robots trying to make sense of their environment, the only observables are low-level variables like pixels in images. To generalize well, an agent must induce high-level variables, particularly those which are causal or are affected by causal variables. A central goal for AI and causality is thus the joint discovery of abstract representations and causal structure. In this work, we systematically evaluate the agent's ability to learn underlying causal structure. We note that existing environments for studying causal induction are poorly suited for this objective because they have complicated task-specific causal graphs with many confounding factors. Hence, to facilitate research in learning the representation of high-level variables as well as causal structure among these variables, we present a suite of RL environments created to systematically probe the ability of methods to identify variables as well as causal structure among those variables. We evaluate various representation learning algorithms from literature and found that explicitly incorporating structure and modularity in the model can help causal induction in model-based reinforcement learning.
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