Breathe before speaking: efficient information dissemination despite noisy, limited and anonymous communication

Ofer Feinerman, Bernhard Haeupler, Amos Korman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Distributed computing models typically assume reliable communication between processors. While such assumptions often hold for engineered networks, e.g., due to underlying error correction protocols, their relevance to biological systems, wherein messages are often distorted before reaching their destination, is quite limited. In this study we take a first step towards reducing this gap by rigorously analyzing a model of communication in large anonymous populations composed of simple agents which interact through short and highly unreliable messages. We focus on the broadcast problem and the majority-consensus problem. Both are fundamental information dissemination problems in distributed computing, in which the goal of agents is to converge to some prescribed desired opinion. We initiate the study of these problems in the presence of communication noise. Our model for communication is extremely weak and follows the push gossip communication paradigm: In each round each agent that wishes to send information delivers a message to a random anonymous agent. This communication is further restricted to contain only one bit (essentially representing an opinion). Lastly, the system is assumed to be so noisy that the bit in each message sent is flipped independently with probability 1 / 2 - ϵ, for some small ϵ> 0. Even in this severely restricted, stochastic and noisy setting we give natural protocols that solve the noisy broadcast and majority-consensus problems efficiently. Our protocols run in O(log n/ ϵ2) rounds and use O(nlog n/ ϵ2) messages/bits in total, where n is the number of agents. These bounds are asymptotically optimal and, in fact, are as fast and message efficient as if each agent would have been simultaneously informed directly by an agent that knows the prescribed desired opinion. Our efficient, robust, and simple algorithms suggest balancing between silence and transmission, synchronization, and majority-based decisions as important ingredients towards understanding collective communication schemes in anonymous and noisy populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-355
Number of pages17
JournalDistributed Computing
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2017


  • Consensus
  • Gossip
  • Information dissemination
  • Noise
  • Reliability
  • Rumor spreading

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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