Can Graph Neural Networks Count Substructures?

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Zhengdao Chen, Lei Chen, Soledad Villar, Joan Bruna


<p>The ability to detect and count certain substructures in graphs is important for solving many tasks on graph-structured data, especially in the contexts of computational chemistry and biology as well as social network analysis. Inspired by this, we propose to study the expressive power of graph neural networks (GNNs) via their ability to count attributed graph substructures, extending recent works that examine their power in graph isomorphism testing and function approximation. We distinguish between two types of substructure counting: induced-subgraph-count and subgraph-count, and establish both positive and negative answers for popular GNN architectures. Specifically, we prove that Message Passing Neural Networks (MPNNs), 2-Weisfeiler-Lehman (2-WL) and 2-Invariant Graph Networks (2-IGNs) cannot perform induced-subgraph-count of substructures consisting of 3 or more nodes, while they can perform subgraph-count of star-shaped substructures. As an intermediary step, we prove that 2-WL and 2-IGNs are equivalent in distinguishing non-isomorphic graphs, partly answering an open problem raised in Maron et al. (2019). We also prove positive results for k-WL and k-IGNs as well as negative results for k-WL with a finite number of iterations. We then conduct experiments that support the theoretical results for MPNNs and 2-IGNs. Moreover, motivated by substructure counting and inspired by Murphy et al. (2019), we propose the Local Relational Pooling model and demonstrate that it is not only effective for substructure counting but also able to achieve competitive performance on molecular prediction tasks.</p>