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Horst Bunke (University of Bern, Switzerland) and Kaspar Riesen (University of Bern, Switzerland)

Copyright: © 2013
|Pages: 18

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3994-2.ch020

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TopThe question how to represent objects in a formal way is a key issue in the whole discipline of computer vision and pattern recognition. There are two major ways to tackle this crucial problem, viz. the statistical and the structural approach. In the statistical approach, objects are represented by feature vectors. That is, an object is formally represented as a vector x=(x_{1}, ..., x_{n}) ∈ R^{n} of *n* measurements. Representing objects or patterns by feature vectors x∈ R^{n} offers a number of useful properties, in particular, the mathematical wealth of operations available in a vector space. That is, computing the sum, the product, the mean, or the distance of two entities is well defined in vector spaces, and moreover, can be efficiently accomplished. The convenience and low computational complexity of algorithms that use feature vectors as their input have eventually resulted in a rich repository of algorithmic tools for computer vision, pattern recognition, and related fields (Duda, 2000).

However, the use of feature vectors implicates two limitations. First, as vectors always represent a predefined set of features, all vectors in a given application have to preserve the same length regardless of the size or complexity of the corresponding objects. Second, there is no direct possibility to describe binary relationships that might exist among different parts of an object. These two drawbacks are severe, particularly when the patterns under consideration are characterized by complex structural relationships rather than the statistical distribution of a fixed set of pattern features (Bunke, 1990).

The structural approach is based on symbolic data structures, such as strings, trees, or graphs, out of which graphs are the most general one. In fact, from an algorithmic perspective both strings and trees are simple instances of graphs. A string is a graph in which each node represents one symbol, and two consecutive symbols are connected by an edge. A tree is a graph in which any two nodes are connected by exactly one path. Although we focus on graphs in this chapter, the reader should keep in mind that strings and trees are always included as special cases.

The above-mentioned drawbacks of feature vectors, namely the size constraint and the lacking ability of representing relationships, can be overcome by graph based representations (Conte, 2004). In fact, graphs are not only able to describe properties of an object, but also binary relationships among different parts of the underlying object by means of edges. Note that these relationships can be of various nature (spatial, temporal, conceptual, etc.). Moreover, graphs are not constrained to a fixed size, i.e. the number of nodes and edges is not limited a priori and can be adapted to the size and the complexity of each individual object under consideration.

Yet, one drawback of graphs, when compared to feature vectors, is the significantly increased complexity of many algorithms. Nevertheless, new computer generations, which are now able to more efficiently handle complex data structures, as well as the development of fast approximate algorithms for graph comparison definitively empower researchers to use graphs in their respective problem domains (Conte, 2004). Yet, another serious limitation in the use of graphs for object classification arises from the fact that there is little mathematical structure in the domain of graphs. For example, computing the (weighted) sum or the product of a pair of entities, which are elementary operations needed in many standard algorithms in pattern recognition, is not possible in the domain of graphs, or is at least not defined in general for graph structures.

A promising approach to overcoming the lack of algorithmic tools without losing the power of graphs is offered through graph embedding in vector spaces. Basically, such an embedding of graphs establishes access to the rich repository of algorithmic tools for pattern recognition originally reserved for vectorial data. That is, graph embedding addresses the question of how to combine the complementary properties of feature vectors and graphs.

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