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Causal Inference in Recommender Systems: A Survey of Strategies for Bias Mitigation, Explanation, and Generalization

by   Yaochen Zhu, et al.
University of Virginia

In the era of information overload, recommender systems (RSs) have become an indispensable part of online service platforms. Traditional RSs estimate user interests and predict their future behaviors by utilizing correlations in the observational historical activities, their profiles, and the content of interacted items. However, since the inherent causal reasons that lead to the observed users' behaviors are not considered, multiple types of biases could exist in the generated recommendations. In addition, the causal motives that drive user activities are usually entangled in these RSs, where the explainability and generalization abilities of recommendations cannot be guaranteed. To address these drawbacks, recent years have witnessed an upsurge of interest in enhancing traditional RSs with causal inference techniques. In this survey, we provide a systematic overview of causal RSs and help readers gain a comprehensive understanding of this promising area. We start with the basic concepts of traditional RSs and their limitations due to the lack of causal reasoning ability. We then discuss how different causal inference techniques can be introduced to address these challenges, with an emphasis on debiasing, explainability promotion, and generalization improvement. Furthermore, we thoroughly analyze various evaluation strategies for causal RSs, focusing especially on how to reliably estimate their performance with biased data if the causal effects of interests are unavailable. Finally, we provide insights into potential directions for future causal RS research.


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