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Distinguished In Uniform: Self-Attention Vs. Virtual Nodes

Eran Rosenbluth · Jan Tönshoff · Martin Ritzert · Berke Kisin · Martin Grohe

Halle B #92
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Tue 7 May 7:30 a.m. PDT — 9:30 a.m. PDT


Graph Transformers (GTs) such as SAN and GPS are graph processing models that combine Message-Passing GNNs (MPGNNs) with global Self-Attention. They were shown to be universal function approximators, with two reservations: 1. The initial node features must be augmented with certain positional encodings. 2. The approximation is non-uniform: Graphs of different sizes may require a different approximating network.We first clarify that this form of universality is not unique to GTs: Using the same positional encodings, also pure MPGNNs and even 2-layer MLPs are non-uniform universal approximators. We then consider uniform expressivity: The target function is to be approximated by a single network for graphs of all sizes. There, we compare GTs to the more efficient MPGNN + Virtual Node architecture. The essential difference between the two model definitions is in their global computation method: Self-Attention Vs Virtual Node. We prove that none of the models is a uniform-universal approximator, before proving our main result: Neither model’s uniform expressivity subsumes the other’s. We demonstrate the theory with experiments on synthetic data. We further augment our study with real-world datasets, observing mixed results which indicate no clear ranking in practice as well.

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