Monday, 6 Apr 2020

What an all-digital AI research conference looks like

Organizers of the International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) shared details about what will be one of the largest-ever all-digital AI research conferences. The weeklong, online-only affair will feature more than 650 machine learning works. ICLR will include live chat, live Zoom video calls for Q&As and research author meetings, and the ability to upvote questions or vote for speakers using Slido.

ICLR was initially scheduled to take place next month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but with a global pandemic underway and shelter in place orders asking one in five people worldwide to stay home, the conference will now take place online next month. ICLR organizers told VentureBeat they’re treating the cancellation as an opportunity to develop a model for remote conferences. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, ICLR board members like Yoshua Bengio had championed remote paper presentations as a way to reduce the carbon footprint of AI conferences.

In an attempt to accommodate a truly global audience, the digital ICLR will be rolled out across five time zones each day and a video download option may be included for people with low bandwidth.

“We are allowing access to multiple time zones by creating multiple poster sessions each day in five different time zones across the world, so most people will find a time convenient to them. Because of the overlap in times, this also allows everyone across the world to have multiple poster sessions to participate in during the day (at least three),” organizers said in a Medium post on Tuesday.

All keynote talks will be prerecorded and released daily but each keynote will also include a scheduled 15-minute live video Q&A session. Presenters will also host live chats to field questions from colleagues and offer network opportunities.

In addition to chat, ICLR will feature Booths — spaces for active or passive participation in video chats with a host. Virtual Booths will be made for sponsors; a chosen list of invited speakers; workshops; and affinity groups like Women in Machine Learning, Queer in AI, and LatinX in AI. Additional details about the structure of workshops will be released in the weeks ahead.

As Booths are meant to simulate the kind of impromptu interactions you might have between sessions at an in-person conference, conversations that take place in Booths will not be recorded.

SlidesLive will take care of conference video hosting services, while reviews and papers will be provided through OpenReview. Keynotes, live Q&A sessions, and other conference content may be made available afterward — through a digital archive — but details surrounding permissions are still being discussed, ICLR general chair Sasha Rush told VentureBeat in an email.

The way ICLR and subsequent machine learning conferences employ digital options in the months ahead could reshape how the AI research community discusses breakthroughs, novel AI, and approaches leading to state-of-the-art performance. As of a March 20 update, CVPR, one of the next-biggest machine learning conferences, is still scheduled as planned in Seattle. Supporters of remote conferences say they will reduce the carbon footprint that comes with flying thousands of researchers to a single location and will enable access for researchers who encounter visa issues or students and professionals who can’t afford to attend an in-person gathering. At $100 a ticket, access to ICLR online is 20% less than it would have been for the in-person event in Ethiopia, and that’s before travel or lodging expenses.

To bring a social element to the entirely digital event, conference participants will also be able to create their own Booths.

“The value of our conferences for many of us lies in the opportunity to meet people and discover new lines of research. This was central to our planning and is why we chose to create a shared schedule, live poster sessions, and live Q&A with invited speakers,” the post reads. “We also wanted to facilitate the meetings between sessions, which is why we opted to have many types of Booths for live chat.”

A call for volunteers and a detailed guide for how attendees should prep their computer for the conference will be released in the coming weeks. ICLR is scheduled to take place April 27-May 1.

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