Using Three States for Binary Consensus on Complete Graphs

  • Etienne Perron ,
  • Dinkar Vasudevan ,
  • Milan Vojnovic

MSR-TR-2008-114 |

We consider the binary consensus problem where each node in the network initially observes one of two states and the goal for each node is to eventually decide which one of the two states was initially held by the majority of the nodes. Each node contacts other nodes and updates its current state based on the state communicated by the last contacted node. We assume that both signaling (the information exchanged at node contacts) and memory (computation state at each node) are limited and restrict our attention to systems where each node can contact any other node (i.e., complete graphs). It is well known that for systems with binary signaling and memory, the probability of reaching incorrect consensus is equal to the fraction of nodes that initially held the minority state. We show that extending both the signaling and memory by just one state dramatically improves the reliability and speed of reaching the correct consensus. Specifically, we show that the probability of error decays exponentially with the number of nodes N and the convergence time is logarithmic in N for large N. We also examine the case when the state is ternary and signaling is binary. The convergence of this system to consensus is again shown to be logarithmic in N for large N, and is therefore faster than purely binary systems. The type of distributed consensus problems that we study arises in a variety of applications including those of sensor networks and opinion formation in social networks – our results suggest that robust and efficient protocols can be built with rather limited signaling and memory.