Just two weeks before its 32nd annual meeting and one month after it said it wouldn’t, the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems has changed its official acronym — from “NIPS” to “NeurIPS.”
Synced received a community email from the Neural Information Processing Systems Foundation Board of Trustees this weekend announcing the change: “Something remarkable has happened in our community. The name NeurIPS has sprung up organically as an alternative acronym, and we’re delighted to see it being adopted.” The conference’s official website address has also been switched, from nips.cc to neurips.cc.
Discussion around the NIPS acronym rose this March when John Hopkins University professors and students sent a letter to organizers of world’s premier AI gathering, calling for a name change to avoid a “hostile environment” due to the term NIPS being “vulnerable to sexual puns.”
In April the organizing committee said it was considering a name change and began collecting opinions and suggestions from the AI research community. Last month the board announced “the poll itself did not yield a clear consensus on a name change or a well-regarded alternative name” and so NIPS would remain the acronym.
That announcement however triggered a backlash in the form of an online petition and boycott threats from both academia and industry, prompting this weekend’s 11th hour name change.
Nvidia Director of Research Anima Anandkumar launched an online campaign against the board’s decision with the hashtag “ProtestNIPS.” Petition signees included Google AI Chief Jeff Dean, Google AI Researcher Martin Wicke, and Ian Goodfellow. Also applying pressure was conference sponsor Recursion Pharma, which said it was withdrawing its support because the name had not been changed.
The alternative acronym “NeurIPS” was not among those considered this summer, but rather an idea proposed by a Stanford University PhD student, who purchased the domain name to use as a parallel site for the event and indicated a willingness to “transfer the domain over at any time if the NeurIPS board decided to switch.”
NeurIPS organizers announced measures to support the new acronym next month in Montréal: “First, all signage and the program booklet for the 2018 meeting will refer either to the full conference name or to NeurIPS. Second, we’ve asked sponsors to do the same in their materials and publicity, to the extent possible at this late date. Third, we will hire a branding company to design a new logo for the conference. Fourth, we’ve moved the conference site to neurips.cc, and the owner of neurips.com, Peter Henderson, has graciously donated the domain name to the Foundation.”
In response to the decision, Anandkumar tweeted “Thank you everyone for your overwhelming support for
#protestNIPS I wish we could have started with a clean slate and done away with problematic legacy, but this is a compromise. I hope we can all continue to work towards better inclusion.”
NeurIPS organizers have been actively working to increase the event’s diversity and inclusion, and two dedicated chairs were appointed this year to take responsibility for long-term improvements on this front. NeurIPS has provided support to the Women in ML (WiML) group for many years; and such support is now being extending to other identity groups such as Black in AI (BAI), Queer in AI@NIPS, LatinX in AI (LXAI), and Jews in ML.
The NeurIPS 2018 conference runs December 2 – 9 in Montréal, Canada. Synced will be reporting from the conference throughout the week.
Author: Robert Tian, Tony Peng | Editor: Michael Sarazen
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