ICLR: accessible, inclusive, virtual



I'm Katherine Foreman and I'm neal learns and today we are bringing you breaking our format. Our usual format our new usual format a little bit kneel at we have the opportunity to sit down with the General Chair and senior program chair or this year's interruption of the international conference on learning representations I clear which was entirely virtual this year Alexander Rush of Cornell and Shakira Muhammad of deep. Mind thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it off. Excellent Catherine great to be here. I'd love to do a little bit of background on. I clear I just sort of like mainly to give us a sort of a context for the conference in in the ecosystem of other conferences. WanNa know how did the conference get to where it is today? Yes thank you neil. That sounds like a very good question. How the conference get to where it is today. This year was already breaking ground. It was going to be taking place in Ethiopia which I think is the first time any of the large conferences have been held on the African continent But then all of a sudden we had this massive global change and it was decided that the conference would take place entirely. Virtually so Sasha. I'd love to hear from you a little bit more about how you see. I clear fitting into the larger system of conferences. And what your experience with. It's been and how this change took place shore so this was the eighth international conference of learning representations but it was run as a workshop for several years so it started in two thousand thirteen. And I think what's remarkable about the conference it's been experiencing exponential growth for the last basically for its entire history and so it's a conference where everyone is kind of a newcomer each year. We have most people kind of experiencing it for their first time. I think personally I didn't really attend. I clear till about three or four years ago and I was coming from it from the natural language processing community so conferences like ACL P that she makes up a relatively large part of kind of this multi disciplinary area. It's a conference. That kind of welcomes a large group of people doing different forms of representation learning and deep learning and things of that form I think it differs from some of the other machine learning conferences in that. It's a bit more experimental. I think a lot of people know it for its experimental reviewing format and for the structure of how it's laid out and I think one of the reasons it was so interesting to work on is because it's a conference that kind of allows for more experimentation in its format in its structure and we took that to heart in both the venue this year and also in kind of change to the virtual conference format. So this sort of like the experimental stuff it does on its own. It was the first to open reviewing. And then there's the experimental stuff that's forced upon it so. I find so amazing. What you had to do this year is first of all you were taking a major conference to the African continent for the first time which was a major undertaking in itself. And then you had to cancel the first major conference on the African continent. Tell us how how I don't know who's best to sort of speak to that. She cared. Do you want to tell us how that came about? And how you reacted yes. I think we were actually quite far along in our work dealing with the European conference it was going to be in a great venue in the Millennium Hall. Very close to the airport in Ethiopia. Lots of things have been set up. Even down to the whole Shedu of the conference itself was set up. The we're going be three. Parallel tracks experimented the conference in that way. All the keynotes. All the speaking. The setup of the post is all of these kinds of things are done and then it was a difficult time the end of February the beginning of March when it was very clear that the long run of cove it and would come into effect and a lot of consideration and debate with many many different kinds of people around actually cancelling the conference. But I think in the end You know it was obviously a good decision. Forced us to experiment in the new way so I was pretty happy with the with the end to actually get to do it. So what was the thing that Chicago pops happiest about about the way the conference went the thing that surprised you the most because I know both of you I mean it must be in so much stress. Just organizing a major conference like this is like major stress in in the base case and then organizing one where you have to reorganize the entire conference within the space of a few weeks. I just can't imagine it but let's start with the positive things and and pats that recession. Say She Sasha. What was the thing that you most pleasantly surprised about about the conference? Yeah so there. I think there were a lot of things that kind of were unexpected or kind of emergent behavior. That came up during the conference itself. The part that I think I spent the most time on and was most excited about was the the social interactions particularly chat and the socials. That emerged I think that was the part we were most worried about. It's the part I get the most out of conferences talking to experts in the field kind of having conversations that you didn't expect or learning about papers that you didn't know that we're coming. We really built that around kind of slack. Like chat experience and seeing the different topic rooms emerged. There was a very interesting created. A I room. That came out of nowhere. The community had several very interesting events. That were just so neat to attend and then we also ran several mentoring sessions just kind of out of nowhere in the middle of the conference that were super interesting and kind of almost better than I would have imagined. That could have occurred. Say getting a drink at a bar at an normal conference

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