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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

General conference thoughts

Some conference attendees have expressed an interest in an open thread for commenting on conference infrastructure and making suggestions for future improvements. Have at it!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice conference, in terms of content and organization. Relative to conferences in other fields I attend, the price is high, given that this is minimal food and other amenities. Also would be desirable to have more community building activities.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree that the registration fees were quite steep and the coffee seemed to get over before you know :-).

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have there been any tours of the city organized at all? We'd like to visit CMU and U Pitt. I've heard of the Cathedral of Learning and would love to visit with a group of people. Anyone in?

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The food comment is well taken :-(

We would also like to hear specific comments on

1. whether technical talks are too long/short

2. whether the invited talks were too detailed/too accessible

3. whether the poster session went well enough

4. whether the sister conference track was seen as useful etc. etc.

Rao (one of the organizers)

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. The length of the technical sessions was fine. Some of the tutorials on the weekend could have been shorter, though. Perhaps divide them into 2 hour sessions instead of 4 next time?

2. I've thoroughly enjoyed the invited talks so far, though given my relative inexperience in the field, this probably means that they may not have been detailed enough for others.

3. We'll find out soon, although a preliminary comment: the Allegheny ballroom is rather cold this afternoon. I hope it will warm up a little when there's some warm bodies in there, but for now, *shiver*.

4. I haven't gone to any of the highlight sessions.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No food.
No printed proceedings.
High registration cost.

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think not having a printed proceedings was a mistake. I enjoyed the ability at previous conferences to refer to the papers while they were being presented.

11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Overall this is a really wonderfully run event. I have only two negatives to share.

At previous AAAI's, the robots and exhibits have been generally held in a convention center (like we have next door). That gives more space for the robots, and makes the event all the more exciting. I have found having the robots in the hallway of the hotel slightly absurd and very crowded.

Also, I have been sadly disappointed not to see any school children coming to see the robots - I think at San Jose, and then in earlier years there were always groups of school children who would come and see the robots, and that was always wonderful to see. I think last year there was some sort of competition for high schools students as well. It's very disappointing to see that despite having CMU and Pitt here in town, there is very little evidence of local community involvement, especially among grade school and high school students. That is a shame, and really should not happen at AAAI. I can't imagine groups of high schools students coming to a planning conference or worse yet a KR conference, but I certainly can imagine them coming to AAAI.

Second, I think having invited talks conflict with each other is just flat out rude to the invited speakers. I think it would be better to have just one invited speaker and let them compete with the technical sessions (as has been the case at previous AAAIs I think).

Oh, a third, some of the rooms are simply too small, both for the invited talks and the technical presentations.

But, it's always easy to focus on the negative. Despite the above, this has been a great event.

12:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was the one complaining about not using the convention center space. Let me expand upon that a bit...the generalized game playing competition this year was really interesting, but it was held in a hole in the wall that made it nearly impossible for spectators to observe. Indeed, there was no explanation of what was going on, and it just sort of happened in front of the dozen or so people participating, as best I can tell.

What a missed opportunity. This would have been perfect to have in a bigger space (like a convention center) with the big projection screen, and maybe a tournament board showing who was playing who, and who had won or lost, etc. Maybe even with chairs so people could come and sit and watch the games?? (Imagine that!!)

I think generalized game playing would attract the interest of the public at large as well. I found it fairly ironic that Ron Brachman spoke about the public having an interest in AI (via movies, etc.) but then when we have a chance to actually show the public real AI, we hole ourselves up in small areas and talk to ourselves. That's really too bad, and very much a missed opportunity.

BTW, the game playing context had a 10k prize. That's enough to generate media coverage I'm sure, and yet as best I could tell there was none. Again, a missed opportunity, but the space used was so small that even if the media came there would be no place for them.

Sorry to harp on this, but I think AAAI is unique among conferences in its ability to reach the general public. It was very sad to me to see how little attention has been paid to that this year.

12:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind as well as critical comments. Keep them coming.

Couple of comments on the previous posts:

1. Convention center costs almost 3 times as much as does the hotel space. With AAAI being slightly less than 1000 attendees, the conference has been looking very sparse and forlorn in a large hulking convention centers in the recent years.. There is something to be said for spaces bustling with people (as long as one is not claustrophobic ;-)

2. Re: the invited talks being parallel to each other--after the experience of several recent AAAIs where very highly refereed papers were presented in very nearly empty rooms much to the chagrin and disappointment of the hard-working authors, it was felt that it is important to have the technical sessions well attended.
The invited talks were all highly attended and it is doubtful that invited speakers felt slighted to have only 300+ audience listening to them ;-)

yours truly
--the management ;-)

as the erstwhile columbia school of journalism seminars on PBS used to say--"Not to make up your mind, but to open it.. to make the agony of decision making so intense that you can escape only by thinking..." ;-)

1:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that paper proceedings are essentially a thing of the past, I think a "conference digest" would be very helpful.

The idea is that the authors of each paper submit, along with the final versions of their papers, a one-slide advertisment for their talk -- basically just the title, a cool picture and three or four bullets describing the work.

These can be collected, organized by session, printed (roughly one page per session), and distributed to conference attendees in leiu of the paper proceedings. At other reasonably large-scale multi-track conferences (ICRA, for example), this digest has been quite useful for deciding which talks to attend and for finding interesting research that otherwise might have been missed.

Has there been any thought toward doing this sort of thing at future AAAI conferences?

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The paper digest idea was pursued this time but couldn't be implemented due to AAAI budget constraints. It will definitely be realized in the future AAAIs.

--mgmt ;-)

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

keep people out of the hallways! They talk too loud and noone can hear the talk inside the rooms!

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

would help a lot if students had the opportunity to match up and share a room at the Westin, which would have been cheaper (and so so so so so much nicer than the dorms).

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

agreed about the proceedings in print. Really difficult to go to all the talks and not have access to their papers! Not all of us have a laptop here. Especially for the high cost.

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Better late than never ...

I expect my point of view is a minority one, but just in case there are others who share it ... I've gone to AAAI national conferences in the past primarily to hear the invited speakers--they provide the overview and synthesis that I seek. I generally avoid the individual research presentations because they tend to be a little too esoteric for my tastes (and the papers are always available in the proceedings to be be read at my leisure). Consequently, I was a little disappointed that invited talks were given in parallel--it was physically impossible for me to hear some of them. While I also appreciate that paper presenters would like an audience, I don't know how effective it is to tinker with the schedule to provide one. For example, on Monday and Tuesday I usually went to the conference highlights sessions when there were no invited speakers.

I'm looking forward to the Senior Member and Nectar Papers planned for next year to provide the sort of generality that I've sought in invited speakers. I hope: 1) presentations of these types are not intentionally scheduled in competition with each other; 2) at least some of these presentations are presented at the same times as research paper sessions.

On the topic of research papers ... Before the conference I attempted to read the abstracts of all of the papers being presented. (While I wasn't planning to attend many paper presentations, I didn't want to miss a gem.) The organization of the abstracts on the AAAI web site--one abstract per Web page--made it a rather tedious to read and print out the abstracts. A suggestion: in addition to the abstracts on individual pages, perhaps it would be possible to generate a (large) consolidated Web page that contains all abstracts? That way, the entire Web page could be downloaded and/or printed. The consolidated page could then be easily reviewed before the conference.

I don't want to sound negative. I do know that organizing a conference takes lots of effort and I fully appreciate everyone's hard work. All in all, I thought the conference was a very rewarding experience!

1:31 AM  
Blogger Jystar said...

So, it's significantly after the end of the conference, but I've posted some of my thoughts about the conference in general and related topics on by blog at http://numinoria.blogspot.com/. Come on over, check it out, and let me know what you think.

1:15 AM  

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