Hsuan-Tien Lin, Maria Florina Balcan, Raia Hadsell and Marc’Aurelio Ranzato

NeurIPS 2020 Program Chairs

With Y-Lan Boureau and Hendrik Strobelt, NeurIPS 2020 Online Experience Chairs

And Hugo Larochelle, General Chair

We are now just a few weeks away from the start of the conference and we are very excited to announce the schedule and how NeurIPS 2020 will unfold. Back in June, we made the difficult decision that NeurIPS would be a virtual event. We invited two Online Experience Chairs to join the organising committee, and began to plan for a virtual rather than a physical meeting.

There are several challenges when organizing a virtual event. First and foremost, presenters and attendees are spread around the world, and it is difficult to have them all come together at a time that is convenient for everybody. There are further issues related to basic accessibility in areas with low bandwidth internet connection and accessibility to apps that are not permitted in certain geographic areas. Another major challenge is the lack of social interaction, since one of the major drives to attend a conference is to meet people and exchange ideas, and the experience of virtual attendees can be impoverished in comparison. Finally, there are challenges related to improving the user interface of the communication tools and teaching people these tools, and to be able to release the schedule well in advance so that people have the warning they need to plan their attendance.

The NeurIPS 2020 organizers have worked very hard during the past several months to address these issues. Next, we summarize our major efforts on this front.

First, we designed a schedule with two sessions a day. The first starts at 5am PT, while the second session starts at 5pm PT. Our intent is to allow people around the world to find a fairly convenient time to join us. We expect people in Asia and the West Coast of North America to join the 5pm PT session, while folks in Europe, Africa, and the East Coast of North America to find the 5am PT session more convenient. Moreover, we asked authors for their time preference, and arranged their presentations at a time that is compatible with their time zone. Sessions last for 6 hours, giving opportunities to attend other elements of the NeurIPS experience, such Q&As with tutorial speakers, socials, meetups and sponsor booths.

Second, we have chosen tools and presentation modalities that encourage social interaction among presenters and attendees. Here’s how that works. We increased the number of oral presentations, and both oral and spotlight presenters will participate in live Q&A sessions. This choice not only lets us highlight more research at the conference, but it also adds a live component that (hopefully) will make the sessions more exciting both for the authors and attendees. Second, rather than dedicating one zoom room per poster, we’ve opted to hold virtual poster sessions hosted in Gather Town, following positive feedback from ICLR attendees and the joint affinity groups poster session at ICML. This arrangement simulates the physical experience, letting people walk around as little video-game avatars, bumping into each other, and dropping in and out of posters. That’s a lot of fun!

Third, we have made inclusivity a first-class citizen during our planning. We opted for tools that let users choose their preferred bandwidth, we made sure that there exist apps that let users access our content from every country of the world, and we deliberately chose platforms that have intuitive UIs even for first-time users. We also encouraged authors to revise their presentation material to be mindful of color-blind people, and will provide captions for all live streamed video sessions. Finally, we will make much of our content freely accessible without any registration, including all the oral presentations from authors, keynote speakers and tutorials. Registration is required to ask questions at the live Q&As, access the internal chats, participate at the poster sessions, and gain access to the workshops, socials, demonstrations, competitions and EXPO day.

Fourth, we have just released the full schedule, two weeks ahead of the beginning of the conference, to let people familiarize themselves with it and plan their attendance accordingly, since it is hard to both attend the conference and maintain our busy daily schedule otherwise.

So, what does the schedule of the main program look like? You can see the details of the schedule here. Each session will start with a plenary keynote presentation followed by a live Q&A. The keynote speakers will be available for approximately an hour after their talk to answer questions using the internal chat, similar to ask-me-anything (AMA) sessions on reddit.

We then have a three-hour long multi-track oral session. Each track has a different theme (e.g., computer vision, statistical learning theory, etc.) and session chairs moderating the Q&A. The first hour highlights papers that were accepted for oral presentation. Each such paper has a 12-minute live streamed recording of the talk followed by a 3-minute live Q&A with the authors. The following two hours showcase papers accepted for a spotlight presentation. For these papers, we livestream batches of four papers, followed by a 10-minute long joint live Q&A for all the papers in the batch. The session then concludes with the poster presentation, hosted by Gather Town.

There are several Poster Towns, each hosting around 16 papers on a roughly similar theme. During the poster session, each attendee and author controls an avatar and can walk around these towns, visiting posters, chatting in hallways with other attendees, etc. Each town has clearly marked zones for each poster, with a “poster viewing area” and a “zoom call area”, and two presenter spots marked with stars. Poster presenters can interact with attendees directly in Gather Town in the poster viewing area if there are fewer than 4–5 participants; beyond this, presenters and attendees interested in the poster move to that poster’s Zoom call for smoother live video interaction.

There are portals to walk from one poster room to the next, and a central poster room hub from which all poster rooms can be accessed:

We will release a video demo in advance to show how the poster-session interactions work.

To summarize, we are extremely excited to see you all! We have put together a high quality program, have set up an innovative and fun virtual platform, and we can’t wait to learn more about your work and to finally get together.

We intend to keep the conference registration open until Monday December 7th 6pm PST. If you’d like to participate in the conference and workshops, make sure to register before then. This deadline is established to avoid a large surge of last-minute registrations, which can be problematic to the conference’s organization. You can register by going directly to this page.

Stay safe and be healthy!

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