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On the Stability of Expressive Positional Encodings for Graphs

Yinan Huang · William Lu · Joshua Robinson · Yu Yang · Muhan Zhang · Stefanie Jegelka · Pan Li

Halle B #287
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Thu 9 May 1:45 a.m. PDT — 3:45 a.m. PDT


Designing effective positional encodings for graphs is key to building powerful graph transformers and enhancing message-passing graph neural networks. Although widespread, using Laplacian eigenvectors as positional encodings faces two fundamental challenges: (1) Non-uniqueness: there are many different eigendecompositions of the same Laplacian, and (2) Instability: small perturbations to the Laplacian could result in completely different eigenspaces, leading to unpredictable changes in positional encoding. Despite many attempts to address non-uniqueness, most methods overlook stability, leading to poor generalization on unseen graph structures. We identify the cause of instability to be the use of "hard partition'' of eigenspaces. Hence, we introduce Stable and Expressive Positional Encodings (SPE), an architecture for processing eigenvectors that uses eigenvalues to ``softly partition'' eigenspaces. SPE is the first architecture that is (1) provably stable, and (2) universally expressive for basis invariant functions whilst respecting all symmetries of eigenvectors. Besides guaranteed stability, we prove that SPE is at least as expressive as existing methods, and highly capable of counting graph structures. Finally, we evaluate the effectiveness of our method on molecular property prediction, and out-of-distribution generalization tasks, finding improved generalization compared to existing positional encoding methods. Our code is availableat

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