A Comparison of Methods for Treatment Assignment with an Application to Playlist Generation

This study presents a systematic comparison of methods for individual treatment assignment, a general problem that arises in many applications and has received significant attention from economists, computer scientists, and social scientists. We characterize the various methods proposed in the literature into three general approaches: learning models to predict outcomes, learning models to predict causal effects, and learning models to predict optimal treatment assignments... We show analytically that optimizing for outcome or causal effect prediction is not the same as optimizing for treatment assignments, and thus we should prefer learning models that optimize for treatment assignments. We then compare and contrast the three approaches empirically in the context of choosing, for each user, the best algorithm for playlist generation in order to optimize engagement. This is the first comparison of the different treatment assignment approaches on a real-world application at scale (based on more than half a billion individual treatment assignments). Our results show (i) that applying different algorithms to different users can improve streams substantially compared to deploying the same algorithm for everyone, (ii) that personalized assignments improve substantially with larger data sets, and (iii) that learning models by optimizing for treatment assignment can increase engagement by 28% more than when optimizing for outcome or causal effect predictions. read more

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