1 Machine Learning and Econometrics Hal Varian Jan 2014
2 Definitions Machine learning, data mining, predictive analytics, etc. all use data to predict some variable as a function of other variables. May or may not care about insight, importance, patterns May or may not care about inference---how y changes as some x changes Econometrics: Use statistical methods for prediction, inference, causal modeling of economic relationships. Hope for some sort of insight, inference is a goal In particular, causal inference is goal for decision making
3 What econometrics can learn from machine learning Big Data: New Tricks for Econometrics train-test-validate to avoid overfitting cross validation nonlinear estimation (trees, forests, SVGs, neural nets, etc) bootstrap, bagging, boosting variable selection (lasso and friends) model averaging computational Bayesian methods (MCMC) tools for manipulating big data (SQL, NoSQL databases) textual analysis (not discussed)
4 Scope of this talk: what machine learning can learn from econometrics I have nothing to say about Computation Modeling physical/biological system (e.g., machine vision, etc.) Focus is entirely on Causal modeling involving human choices Economic, political, sociological, marketing, health, etc.
5 What machine learning can learn from econometrics non IID data (time series, panel data) [research topic, not in textbooks] causal inference -- response to a treatment [manipulation, intervention] confounding variables natural experiments explicit experiments regression discontinuity difference in differences instrumental variables Note: good theory available from Judea Pearl et al, but not widely used in ML practice. The techniques described above are commonly used in econometrics.
6 Non IID data Time series: trends and seasonals are important; cross validation doesn t work directly; analog is one-step ahead forecasts; spurious correlation is an issue (auto sales); whitening data as a solution: decompose series into trend + seasonal components, look at deviations from expected behavior. Panel data: time effects and individual effects. Example: anomaly detection Simplest model: y it = F i + bx it + e it Fixed effects Random effects
7 NSA auto sales and Google Correlate to 2012
8 NSA auto sales and Google Correlate through 2013
9 Queries on [hangover] and [vodka]
10 Seasonal decomposition of [hangover]
11 Does [vodka] predict [hangovers]?
12 Example of simple transformations for panel data y it = F i + bx it + e it y i = F i + bx i + e i average over time for each individual i y it - y i = b (x it - x i ) + (e it - e i ) subtract to get within estimator Anomaly detection: look for deviations from typical behavior for each individual. Also, panel data is helpful for causal inference as we will see below.
13 Causality More police in precincts with higher crime; does that mean that police cause crime? Policy decision: should we add more police to a given district? Lots of people die in hospitals, are hospitals bad for your health? Policy decision: should I go to hospital for treatment? Advertise more in December, sell more in December. But what is the causal impact of ad spending on sales? Policy decision: how much should I spend on advertising? Important considerations: counterfactuals, confounding variables
14 Counterfactuals and causality Crime. It is likely data was generated by a decision rule that said add more police to areas with high crime. This may have reduced crime over what it would have been, but these area may still have had high crime. Hospital. If I go to hospital will be better off than I would have been if I didn t go? Advertising. What would my sales be if I would have advertised less?
15 Confounding variables 1 Confounding variable: unobserved variable that correlates with both y and x. sales = f(advertising) + other stuff Xmas is a confounding variable but there are potentially many others In this case, the solution is easy: put Christmas (seasonality) in as an additional predictor. But there are many other confounding variables that the advertiser can observe that the analyst doesn t. (E.g., product quality.)
16 Confounding variables 2 Commonly arise when human choice is involved Marketing: advertising choice, price choice Returns to education: IQ, parents income, etc. affect both choice of amount of schooling and adult earnings Health: compliance with prescription directions is correlated with both medication dosage and health outcome Omitted variables that are not correlated with x just add noise, but confounders bias estimates
17 What do you want to estimate? Causal impact: change in sales associated with change in advertising expenditure everything else held constant? or Prediction: Change in sales you would expect to observe when advertising expenditure changes? If you want to make a decision, the former is what is relevant. If you want to make a prediction the latter is relevant.
18 Ceteris paribus vs mutatis mutandis Ceteris paribus: causal effect with other things being held constant; partial derivative Mutatis mutandis: correlation effect with other things changing as they will; total derivative Passive observation: If I observe price change of dp, how do I expect quantity sold to change? Explicit manipulation: If I explicitly change price by dp, how do I expect quantity sold to change? No causation without manipulation Paul Holland (1986)
19 Big data doesn t help You can have a great model of the relationship between police and crime, but won t answer question of what happens if you intervene and add more police. Why? Data generating process is different. Observed data generated by a more crime -> more police rule but now want to know what happens to crime when you add more police When predictors are chosen by someone (as in economic examples), they will often depend on other omitted confounders. Xmas example
20 Estimating a demand function Model: sales ~ price + consumer income + other stuff Policy: if I manipulate price, what happens to sales? Observe: historical data on sales and price Possible data generating process When times are good (boom) people buy a lot and aren t price sensitive, so merchants raise prices. When times are bad (recession) people don t buy much and are price sensitive, so merchants cut prices. Result: high prices associated with high purchases, low prices associated with low purchases. Problem: income is confounding variable. Solutions: 1) bring income into model (but what about other confounders?), 2) do a controlled experiment, 3) find a natural experiment (e.g., taxes, supply shocks).
21 One solution Find other variables that affect price that are independent of confounding variables. sales ~ price + consumer income + other stuff price ~ markup x cost [markup is chosen, cost is exogenous] price ~ pre-tax price + sales tax [price is chosen, sales tax exogenous] Here changes in cost could be due to weather (coffee), global factors (oil), tech change (chips), etc. Sales tax could vary across time and state. As long as these variables are independent of the demand-side factors, we should be OK. Variables like this are called instrumental variables since they are an instrument that moves predictor exogenously, similar to the manipulation you are considering.
22 What is the intended use of demand estimation? Tell consumers what to expect prices to be in the future? Want to model historical relationship Estimate relationship mutatis mutandis Oren Etzioni, et al paper: To buy or not to buy: mining airfare data to minimize ticket purchase price Tell managers what will happen if they manipulate price? Want to model causal relationship Ideally, run an experiment Alternatively, find a natural experiment and/or instrument (fuel price?) Estimate relationship ceteris paribus
23 You usually want the causal impact for policy If you are using data to make decisions, you usually want the causal impact. Examples from: James, Witten, Hastie, Tibshirani, An Introduction to Statistical Learning, 2013 Marketing What effect will changing the price of a product have on sales? Not just an inference problem, but a causal inference problem Generally there will be confounding variables in such a problem Education income ~ education + seniority (Mincer equation) For policy (e.g., changing schooling requirements) you want a causal estimate of education effect, but you won t get that from historical data since people choose education and choice depends on ability, family income, etc.
24 Practical techniques for causal inference Need some sort of exogenous change in x to estimate causal effect 1. Gold standard: true randomized treatment-control experiment a. Google, Bing, Yahoo, Facebook, etc 2. Natural experiments which may or may not be randomized a. Example: draft lottery, Oregon healthcare lottery, etc May need to model: who gets treated (a prediction problem) Random, volunteers, chosen, invited Question to ask: how does proposed policy relate to experiment? Definitely need to model: counterfactual (prediction problem) What would have happened to the treated if they weren t treated? Simple: they would look like the control on average Complex: more elaborate predictive model
25 Role of counterfactual Should I recuperate from an operation in hospital or home? Lots of people die in hospitals! health(went to hospital) - health(stayed home) looks bad But correct comparison is: health(went to hospital) - health(if they had stayed home) Fundamental equation of causal analysis (Angris & Pischke) health(went to hospital) - health(stayed home) = [observed] health(went to hospital) - health(if they had stayed home) [treatment effect] + health(if they had stayed home) - health(stayed home) [selection bias]
26 Fundamental equation in causal modeling observed difference in outcome = average effect of treatment on treated + selection bias Randomization: solves selection bias, so observed difference is average effect of treatment on (a random sample of) the population. So observed difference in controlled experiment gives you effect of treatment on population. But you may be interested in impact of treatment on a subjects chosen for treatment in some other way (volunteers, selected, etc.)
27 Better prediction give you better causal inference Predicting who is selected No problem if treatment random, otherwise an issue Probability selected for treatment ~ observables (test scores) Probability selected for treatment ~ unobservables (personality) Predicting the counterfactual Can you predict outcome before or after treatment? (I.e., those who are going to be treated.) Can you predict outcome for those not treated (control)? Both of these problems are prediction problems and can benefit from better predictive analytics
28 Example Treatment: advertise more Outcome: sales? 1. Predict company X sales using Google Trends category-level query data using time-series model 2. Compare actual sales to predicted sales prior to treatment 3. Compare actual sales during advertising treatment to predicted sales during that period 4. Difference is causal effect of advertising Inferring causal impact using Bayesian structural time-series models
29 Observed + counterfactual using Trends data Difference Cumulative difference
30 Natural experiments Impact of police on crime Terrorism alerts in DC (Klick-Tabarrok) Impact of veteran status on future income Draft lottery (Angrist) Impact of education on income quarter of birth (Angrist-Krueger) [see next slide] Impact of medical care on health outcomes Oregon lottery (Finkelstein, et al.) Impact of ad impressions on purchases Superbowl (Stephens-Davidowitz et al)
31 Education by quarter of birth, wage by quarter of birth
32 Regression discontinuity (and kinks) Treatment applied depending on some score Class size in Israel (Angrist-Lavy) selection bias: students max class size = 40 Position effect of ads selection bias: placement ad rank = bid x ad quality Thresholds show up in lots of policies...and also lots of algorithms (trees)
33 Examine outcomes for subjects near thresholds Perhaps can apply regression discontinuity approach in tree models? Difference between subjects slightly above and below thresholds in a tree model could be just due to random noise. In fact, we could also explicitly randomize so we are confident it is random noise. Adding the noise has low expected cost.
34 Randomization is too important to be left to chance! 1. Write code so that you can experiment if(x > some parameter) do something vs if(x > some parameter + e) do something 2. Can fine tune the parameter 3. Once you understand responses you can simulate: rerun yesterday with different parameter values
35 Experiments are not just for high tech How big of a change is it that you can now gather so much information about your customers? It s powerful. About 50 percent of our transactions occur on our Panera (PNRA) card. So we have individual information on individual purchase activities. That means that when we re going to do something, we can actually look at its impact on behavior and build our marketing and our campaigns around individual consumers or small groups of consumers as opposed to the mass market. Everybody is going to get something a little different depending on what their behavior is. Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich Once you understand behavioral responses simulation can be useful
36 Partially baked idea Build in experimentation at compile time. Every language has a statement like this: const price 5.0 Consider a statement like this: param price 4.00:6.00 inc.50 outcome sales Compiler generates code to assign random value to price at run time and keeps track of outcome variables sales Can run compiler on existing code, making it more powerful Make experimentation the path of least resistance.
37 Partially baked idea, further considerations param color (blue, yellow, green) outcome clicks Can run many experiments at once if they don t interfere Can specify layers that make it easy to avoid interference Not just for computer s internal environment (ATLAS software optimization tool), but also on responses in external environment (such as human responses)
38 Instrumental variables y i = β 0 + β 1 X i + e i Problem: confounding variables that affect both e and X However, some part of the variation in X i may be independent of error Can we find something that changes X, but does not affect error? Estimate coffee demand elasticity: look at supply shifts due to weather Examples: demand for cigarettes, cigarette taxes by state Overall tax rate might be an instrument Instrument Z has two properties Z is highly correlated with X [testable] Z is not correlated with the error [not testable] Z only affects y via the X variable estimate dx/dz and dy/dz and then take ratio to get dy/dx
39 Instrumental variables Best instrument is randomization: use a coin flip to choose X If it is random, it isn t correlated with omitted variables (error) But there may exist some variable that affects X and isn t correlated with the error; that is, the instruments affects y only via its effect on X. Elaborate econometric theory to deal with instruments.
40 Difference in differences Two groups: treatment, control Two time periods: before and after treatment (Treatment may or may not be randomly assigned) after - before = (T A - T B ) treatment - control = (T A - C A ) DiD = (T A - T B ) - (C A - C B ) DiD: impact of treatment on treated, adjusted by control Treatment group Control group Before T B C B After T A C A
41 Regression interpretation treat i = 1 if treated, 0 if control after i = 1 if after, 0 if before β 3 = treatment effect y i = β 0 + β 1 treat i + β 2 after i + β 3 treat i *after i + other things that affect y + e i Treatment Control Difference Before β 0 + β 1 β 0 β 1 After β 0 + β 1 + β 2 + β 3 β 0 + β 2 β 0 + β 3 Difference β 2 + β 3 β 2 β 3
42 How much should you worry about selection bias? Economics Experiment to determine policy change for population Impact of treatment on population Worry about selection bias: want random sample Business Impact on advertisers who choose to use new feature or service Impact of treatment on those who choose to be treated Not necessarily worried about selection bias (but may be worried about early adopter bias)
43 What are lessons? 1. Observational data (usually) can t determine causality, no matter how big it is. 2. Causal inference is what you want for decisions 3. Treatment-control with random assignment is gold standard 4. Sometimes you can find natural experiments, discontinuities, instrumental variables, DiD, etc. 5. Prediction is critical to causal inference: predict who is selected, predict counterfactual 6. Interesting research possibilities in systems optimized for testing
44 Two very good introductory books to follow up Mostly Harmless Econometrics Joshua Angrist and Jörn-Steffen Pischke Introduction to Statistical Learning Gareth James, Daniela Witten, Trevor Hastie and Robert Tibshirani
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