In several occasions, we find ourselves in need of *propagating* information among nodes in an undirected graph.

For instance, consider graph-based Semi-Supervised Learning (SSL): here, labeled and unlabeled examples are represented by an undirected graph, referred to as the *similarity graph*.

The task consists in finding a *label assignment* to all examples, such that:

- The final labeling is consistent with training data (e.g. positive training examples are still classified as positive at the end of the learning process), and
- Similar examples are assigned similar labels: this is referred to as the
*semi-supervised smoothness assumption*.

Similarly, in networked data such as social networks, we might assume that related entities (such as *friends*) are associated to similar attributes (such as political and religious views, musical tastes and so on): in social network analysis, this phenomenon is commonly referred to as *homophily* (love of the same).

In both cases, propagating information from a limited set of nodes in a graph to all nodes provides a method for predicting the attributes of such nodes, when this information is missing.

In the following, we introduce a really clever method for efficiently propagating information about nodes in undirected graphs, known as the *Gaussian Fields* method.

### Propagation as a Cost Minimization Problem

We now cast the propagation problem as a binary classification task. Let $X = \{ x_{1}, x_{2}, \ldots, x_{n} \}$ be a set of $n$ instances, of which only $l$ are labeled: $X^{+}$ are positive examples, while $X^{-}$ are negative examples

Similarity relations between instances can be represented by means of an undirected similarity graph having adjacency matrix $\mathbf{W} \in \mathbb{R}^{n \times n}$: if two instances are connected in the similarity graph, it means that they are considered *similar*, and should be assigned the same label.
Specifically, $\mathbf{W}_{ij} > 0$ iff the instances $x_{i}, x_{j} \in X$ are connected by an edge in the similarity graph, and $\mathbf{W}_{ij} = 0$ otherwise.

Let $y_{i} \in \{ \pm 1 \}$ be the label assigned to the $i$-th instance $x_{i} \in X$.
We can encode our assumption that *similar instances should be assigned similar labels* by defining a quadratic cost function over labeling functions in the form $f : X \mapsto \{ \pm 1 \}$:

Given an input labeling function $f$, the cost function $E(\cdot)$ associates, for each pair of instances $x_{i}, x_{j} \in X$, a non-negative cost $\mathbf{W}_{ij} \left[ f(x_{i}) - f(x_{j}) \right]$: this quantity is $0$ when $\mathbf{W}_{ij} = 0$ (i.e. $x_{i}$ and $X_{j}$ are not linked in the similarity graph), or when $f(x_{i}) = f(x_{j})$ (i.e. they are assigned the same label).

For such a reason, the cost function $E(\cdot)$ favors labeling functions that are more likely to assign the same labels to instances that are linked by an edge in the similarity graph.

Now, the problem of finding a labeling function that is both consistent with training labels, and assigns similar labels to similar instances, can be cast as a *cost minimization problem*. Let’s represent a labeling function $f$ by a vector $\mathbf{f} \in \mathbb{R}^{n}$, $L \subset X$ denote labeled instances, and $\mathbf{y}_{i} \in \{ \pm 1 \}$ denote the label of the $x_{i}$-th instance.
The optimization problem can be defined as follows:

The constraint $\forall x \in L : \mathbf{f}_{i} = \mathbf{y}_{i}$ enforces the label of each labeled example $x_{i} \in L$ to $\mathbf{f}_{i} = +1$ if the instance has a positive label, and to $\mathbf{f}_{i} = -1$ if the instance has a negative label, so to achieve consistency with training labels.

However, constraining labeling functions $f$ to only take discrete values has two main drawbacks:

- Each function $f$ can only provide
*hard*classifications, without yielding any measure of confidence in the provided classification. - The cost term $E(\cdot)$ can be hard to optimize in a multi-label classification setting.

For overcoming such limitations, Zhu et al. propose a *continuous relaxation* of the previous optimization problem:

where the term $\sum_{x_{i} \in X} \mathbf{f}_{i}^{2} = \mathbf{f}^{T} \mathbf{f}$ is a $L_{2}$ regularizer over $\mathbf{f}$, weighted by a parameter $\epsilon > 0$ which ensures that the optimization problem has a unique global solution.

The parameter $\epsilon$ can be interpreted as the *decay* of the propagation process: as the distance from a labeled instance within the similarity graph increases, the confidence in the classification (as measured by the continuous label) gets closer to zero.

This optimization problem has a unique, global solution that can be calculated in closed-form. Specifically, the optimal (relaxed) discriminant function $f : X \mapsto \mathbb{R}$ is given by $\mathbf{\hat{f}} = \left[ \mathbf{f}_{L}, \mathbf{f}_{U} \right]^{T}$, where $\mathbf{\hat{f}}_{L} = \mathbf{y}_{L}$ (i.e. labels for labeled examples in $L$ coincide with training labels), while $\mathbf{\hat{f}}_{U}$ is given by:

where $\mathbf{L} = \mathbf{D} - \mathbf{W}$ is the *graph Laplacian* of the similarity graph with adjacency matrix $\mathbf{W}$, and $\mathbf{D}$ is a diagonal matrix such that $\mathbf{D}_{ii} = \sum_{j} \mathbf{W}_{ij}$.