The Deconfounded Recommender: A Causal Inference Approach to Recommendation

20 Aug 2018  ·  Yixin Wang, Dawen Liang, Laurent Charlin, David M. Blei ·

The goal of recommendation is to show users items that they will like. Though usually framed as a prediction, the spirit of recommendation is to answer an interventional question---for each user and movie, what would the rating be if we "forced" the user to watch the movie?.. To this end, we develop a causal approach to recommendation, one where watching a movie is a "treatment" and a user's rating is an "outcome." The problem is there may be unobserved confounders, variables that affect both which movies the users watch and how they rate them; unobserved confounders impede causal predictions with observational data. To solve this problem, we develop the deconfounded recommender, a way to use classical recommendation models for causal recommendation. Following Wang & Blei [23], the deconfounded recommender involves two probabilistic models. The first models which movies the users watch; it provides a substitute for the unobserved confounders. The second one models how each user rates each movie; it employs the substitute to help account for confounders. This two-stage approach removes bias due to confounding. It improves recommendation and enjoys stable performance against interventions on test sets. read more

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