This has been a sad year for global artificial intelligence conferences, all of which have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers have attempted to put together virtual events, but it remains challenging to replicate the networking experience that draws participants to these academic and industry gatherings. A number of, shall we say, “creative” proposals have emerged — like having researchers meet in the video game Animal Crossing.
Yesterday in the r/MachineLearning subreddit, a lighthearted announcement appeared from the “Animal Crossing Artificial Intelligence Workshop (ACAI)”calling for abstracts. The post rapidly went viral in the community.
Nintendo’s Animal Crossing New Horizons is a social simulation video game that has exploded in popularity during the pandemic. In the game, players create fairy-tale islands, travel, visit friends and mingle — aka the sort of everyday activities currently cancelled by the coronavirus.
“This workshop is partially in response to the world in quarantine for Corona Virus” reads the announcement. Organizer Joshua D. Eisenberg, Lead Scientist in Natural Language Understanding at California-based mobile games startup Artie, reckons that with academic conferences moved to the virtual space, the conversations and social interactions among attendees might be lost. He hopes hosting the workshop in Animal Crossing with attendees connected via Zoom rooms might fill this void.
So how does it work exactly? While the workshop welcomes researchers to submit abstracts from any AI domain, the following fields are highly encouraged for presentations:
- Computational models of narrative
- Automatic speech recognition
- Image generation
- Natural language understanding
- Conversational AI
- Computer vision
- Computational creativity
- Music information retrieval
- Automatic musical understanding
- Video game AI
During the workshop, speakers will use an Animal Crossing character to give their presentation in a workshop area on ACAI main island (Yes, it’s an avatar presenting for the speaker in the game). The real time presentation audio and visuals will be available for workshop attendees through Zoom.
For attendees who wish to network, organizers will prepare coffee break islands with assigned topics and interests: “Since our desire is to replicate the social interactions of a real workshop, we will schedule coffee breaks into the workshop. We will have many different Zoom rooms so that smaller conversations can happen simultaneously.”
The proposal caught the eye of OpenAI Director of Policy Jack Clark, who tweeted, “I think this is v cool and I’m going to use it to justify getting the Switch. Hopefully will submit!”
One Redditor however pointed out that given the price of Nintendo Switch console (US$299.99) required to play Animal Crossing and the US$59.99 cost of the game itself, this workshop could be more expensive than the ICLR 2020 virtual conference, which is charging just US$100. The organizers responded, “You can still submit even if you don’t have Animal Crossing. You just need Zoom to actually give the talk. We will be live streaming the AC conference room though, so we’ll have a surrogate avatar made for you if you don’t have AC.”
In an update this afternoon the organizers announced they had received over 150 registrations and “over 5 abstract proposals.” The Animal Crossing Artificial Intelligence Workshop is free and scheduled for July 24, 2020. All submissions are due on June 12. Visit the workshop website for more details.
Journalist: Fangyu Cai | Editor: Michael Sarazen