COVID-19 officially became a global pandemic on Wednesday. As public health officials and governments respond; businesses brace for losses; and events like trade shows, SXSW, and Google's I/O shutter around the world, the disease is also impacting scientific conferences. Ironically, a coronavirus conference got canceled this week, and on Tuesday the International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR), one of the fastest-growing machine learning conferences in the world, shared that it will now be a virtual event held entirely online. Papers will be presented in prerecorded five-minute videos with a slide deck, while researchers invited to make longer presentations can submit 15-minute videos. In a post about the change to an all-digital conference, organizers called the cancellation of an in-person event an "… opportunity to innovate on how to host an effective remote conference."
A virtual pet parade, a "social shouting" Slack channel, and Zoom karaoke--these are some of the activities that event planners pulled together after the Covid-19 pandemic canceled in-person gatherings and they searched for virtual options that wouldn't, well, suck. Like, say, a cake-decorating contest. Tenessa Gemelke is director of education and events at Brain Traffic, a Minneapolis firm that organizes conferences for content strategists, and this spring she was tasked with taking Confab, the company's long-standing popular event, virtual. The conference is perhaps unique for hosting, among other novelties, separate gatherings for introverts and extroverts. "In the introverts' lounge, it's just for people who feel like, 'I just really want to check my email and please don't talk to me'; those were really popular," Gemelke says.
It was April of 2020 and in light of COVID-19 we were faced with a difficult decision. Do we go full steam ahead organizing our large international conference (ALife 2020) that we had been planning for the last two years in beautiful Montréal, Québec? Do we move the conference online? Do we cancel it altogether? These decisions are happening all over the world as event organizers weigh the costs and benefits of these three options. If we hosted an in-person conference, we would be putting our friends and colleagues at risk of exposure to COVID-19. Full stop, we were not going to do that. Some of our organizers were infectious disease researchers and we knew that this was not an option. We had, however, already sunk tens of thousands of dollars of non-refundable deposits for venues and services over the past two years. So, our team decided we would hold the conference online and build a virtual event in 4 months! Moving the event online was terrifying, and obviously involved a lot of work that teams around the world are now having to repeat. We, therefore, want to share our experience about what worked and what did not.
Back in February, when AI conferences were still held in-person, Turing Award winners Geoffrey Hinton, Yann LeCun and Yoshua Bengio shared a stage in New York at an AAAI event, which Syncedcovered in detail. LeCun told the audience that, after decades of skepticism, he had finally joined Hinton in support of the idea that self-supervised learning may usher in AI's next revolution. Unlike supervised learning, which requires manual data-labelling, self-supervised learning (SSL) is an approach that can automatically generate labels. Recent improvements in self-supervised training methods have established SSL as a serious alternative to traditional supervised training. Google's language representation model ALBERT for example utilizes a self-supervised training framework to leverage large amounts of text. It's no surprise then that NeurIPS 2020 (the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems) would find itself at the forefront of this trend.
Unprecedented advancements in technology and the growing complexity of the world's research challenges demand novel approaches to discovery and innovation. One way for leaders in STEM to stay ahead of this curve is by attending the nation's top tech conferences. These conferences are an excellent chance for STEM professionals to develop valuable connections, exchange groundbreaking ideas, share best practices, and learn new skills while staying abreast of emerging trends and practices in the ever-evolving technology landscape. However, with dozens of conferences to choose from, it can be challenging to select the right one for your organization. And, with the emergence of the COVID-19 global pandemic, it has become difficult to accurately plan for future events.