The COVID-19 pandemic has brought lots of uncertainty in our daily lives, and our thoughts are with everyone in our community and their families, who are doing their best to stay safe, sane and happy.

One aspect of our work that has been the subject of much uncertainty is scientific conferences. With the goal of reducing uncertainty a bit, we thought we’d provide a mid-year update on how the Board is approaching the upcoming NeurIPS 2020 conference. This post won’t provide final answers to what exactly the meeting will look like, but is instead intended to bring transparency to the process we are using to decide on a policy for the conference under these challenging circumstances.

As mentioned by the Program Chairs in a recent post, we are committed to having a strong online component, regardless, allowing for remote participation. Specifically, we are committing to allowing all authors of accepted papers at the main conference to have the option of presenting remotely. We hope that this policy will reassure members of our community who are considering whether to submit a paper.

Meanwhile, we are learning a lot from the experiences of ICLR in April, and ICML this summer, and will leverage insights from those meetings to improve the online experience. Indeed, there is significant overlap in the hard-working staff who manage logistics for the three conferences (most notably Lee Campbell, our IT Director), as well as in their respective Boards. We take this opportunity to congratulate the organizers of ICLR on their successful virtual meeting, which gave us all a better feeling for what this experience can be like.

Our plan is to decide on the exact format for the meeting by September. This time was chosen to align with the expected author notification date, as well as consideration of the substantial financial costs of cancelling a physical meeting at any given time. At the moment, we continue to plan for a physical meeting in Vancouver. Furthermore, as we have done in the past, the main conference talks, posters, tutorials and opt-in workshops will be available online to all.

For additional flexibility on the nature of the meeting, we are beefing up our plans for NeurIPS meetups, which are smaller local gatherings at locations around the world, and were very popular in 2019. See the Call for Meetups and the accompanying blog post for more details. Even if the state of the world doesn’t allow for safely having such physical events, having a network of meetup leaders will be invaluable in nourishing a NeurIPS virtual experience. In fact, ICLR organizers mentioned that having hundreds of volunteers from around the world was a key element to their success.

Lastly, we really want to highlight the great work that the Organizing Committee has been doing. They too have seen their lives affected by COVID-19, yet they’ve been pushing forward with the preparation of the conference program, workshops, tutorials, meetups, demonstrations, competitions, socials and expo. Such preparation is particularly challenging with the growing uncertainty on how these events will unfold in this new COVID-19 reality. So, if you get a chance and feel so inclined, drop them a message and thank them for their efforts!

We will continue to inform the community on our progress towards NeurIPS 2020, and stay tuned for more posts by us or other chairs in the organizing committee.

Meanwhile, we wish you all to stay safe and healthy!

The Neural Information Processing Systems Board
Samy Bengio
Corinna Cortes
Isabelle Guyon
Hugo Larochelle, 2020 General Chair
Neil Lawrence
Daniel Lee
Ulrike von Luxburg
Michael Mozer, Secretary
Terrence Sejnowski, President
Marian Stewart Bartlett, Treasurer
Masashi Sugiyama
Hanna Wallach

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