Archive for NeurIPS

ISBA 2021 grand finale

Posted in Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2021 by xi'an

Last day of ISBA (and ISB@CIRM), or maybe half-day, since there are only five groups of sessions we can attend in Mediterranean time.

My first session was one on priors for mixtures, with 162⁺ attendees at 5:15am! (well, at 11:15 Wien or Marseille time), Gertrud Malsiner-Walli distinguishing between priors on number of components [in the model] vs number of clusters [in the data], with a minor question of mine whether or not a “prior” is appropriate for a data-dependent quantity. And Deborah Dunkel presenting [very early in the US!] anchor models for fighting label switching, which reminded me of the talk she gave at the mixture session of JSM 2018 in Vancouver. (With extensions to consistency and mixtures of regression.) And Clara Grazian debating on objective priors for the number of components in a mixture [in the Sydney evening], using loss functions to build these. Overall it seems there were many talks on mixtures and clustering this year.

After the lunch break, when several ISB@CIRM were about to leave, we ran the Objective Bayes contributed session, which actually included several Stein-like minimaxity talks. Plus one by Théo Moins from the patio of CIRM, with ciccadas in the background. Incredibly chaired by my friend Gonzalo, who had a question at the ready for each and every speaker! And then the Savage Awards II session. Which ceremony is postponed till Montréal next year. And which nominees are uniformly impressive!!! The winner will only be announced in September, via the ISBA Bulletin. Missing the ISBA general assembly for a dinner in Cassis. And being back for the Bayesian optimisation session.

I would have expected more talks at the boundary of BS & ML (as well as COVID and epidemic decision making), the dearth of which should be a cause for concern if researchers at this boundary do not prioritise ISBA meetings over more generic meetings like NeurIPS… (An exception was George Papamakarios’ talk on variational autoencoders in the Savage Awards II session.)

Many many thanks to the group of students at UConn involved in setting most of the Whova site and running the support throughout the conference. It indeed went on very smoothly and provided a worthwhile substitute for the 100% on-site version. Actually, I both hope for the COVID pandemic (or at least the restrictions attached to it) to abate and for the hybrid structure of meetings to stay, along with the multiplication of mirror workshops. Being together is essential to the DNA of conferences, but travelling to a single location is not so desirable, for many reasons. Looking for ISBA 2022, a year from now, either in Montréal, Québec, or in one of the mirror sites!

Nature tidbits [the Bayesian brain]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2020 by xi'an

In the latest Nature issue, a long cover of Asimov’s contributions to science and rationality. And a five page article on the dopamine reward in the brain seen as a probability distribution, seen as distributional reinforcement learning by researchers from DeepMind, UCL, and Harvard. Going as far as “testing” for this theory with a p-value of 0.008..! Which could be as well a signal of variability between neurons to dopamine rewards (with a p-value of 10⁻¹⁴, whatever that means). Another article about deep learning about protein (3D) structure prediction. And another one about learning neural networks via specially designed devices called memristors. And yet another one on West Africa population genetics based on four individuals from the Stone to Metal age (8000 and 3000 years ago), SNPs, PCA, and admixtures. With no ABC mentioned (I no longer have access to the journal, having missed renewal time for my subscription!). And the literal plague of a locust invasion in Eastern Africa. Making me wonder anew as to why proteins could not be recovered from the swarms of locust to partly compensate for the damages. (Locusts eat their bodyweight in food every day.) And the latest news from NeurIPS about diversity and inclusion. And ethics, as in checking for responsibility and societal consequences of research papers. Reviewing the maths of a submitted paper or the reproducibility of an experiment is already challenging at times, but evaluating the biases in massive proprietary datasets or the long-term societal impact of a classification algorithm may prove beyond the realistic.

NeurIPS without visa

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2019 by xi'an


I came by chance upon this 2018 entry in Synced that NeurIPS now takes place in Canada between Montréal and Vancouver primarily because visas to Canada are easier to get than visas to the USA, even though some researchers still get difficulties in securing theirs. Especially researchers from some African countries, which is exposed  in the article as one of the reasons the next ICLR takes place in Addis Ababa. Which I wish I could attend! In the meanwhile, I will be taking part in an ABC workshop in Vancouver, December 08, prior to NeurIPS 2019, before visiting the Department of Statistics at UBC the day after. (My previous visit there was in 1990, I believe!) Incidentally but interestingly, the lottery entries for NeurIPS 2019 are open till September 25, to the public (those not contributing to the conference or any of its affiliated groups). This is certainly better than having bots buying all entries within 12 minutes of the opening time!

More globally, this entry makes me wonder how learned societies could invest in ensuring locations for their (international) meetings allow for a maximum inclusion in terms of these visa difficulties, but also ensuring freedom and safety for all members. Which may prove a de facto impossibility. For instance, Ethiopia has a rather poor record in terms of human rights and, in particular, homosexuality is criminalised there. An alternative would be to hold the conferences in parallel locations chosen to multiply the chances for this inclusion, but this could prove counter-productive [for inclusion] by creating groups that would never ever meet. An insolvable conundrum?

the Montréal declarAIon

Posted in University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2019 by xi'an

In conjunction with Yoshua Bengio being one of the three recipients of the 2018 Alan Turing award, Nature ran an interview of him about the Montréal Déclaration for a responsible AI, which he launched at NeurIPS last December.

“Self-regulation is not going to work. Do you think that voluntary taxation works? It doesn’t.”

Reflecting on the dangers of abuse of and by AIs, from surveillance, to discrimination, but being somewhat unclear on the means to implement the ten generic principles listed there. (I had missed the Declaration when it came up.) I agree with the principles stressed by this list, well-being, autonomy, privacy, democracy, diversity, prudence, responsability, and sustainability, it remains to be seem how they can be imposed upon corporations whose own public image puts more restraint on them than ethics or on governments that are all too ready to automatise justice, police, and the restriction of citizen’s rights. Which makes the construction of a responsible AI institution difficult to imagine, if the current lack of outreach of the extra-national institutions is the gauge. (A striking coincidence is that, when  Yoshua Bengio pointed out that France was trying to make Europe an AI power, there was also a tribune in Le Monde about the lack of practical impact of this call to arms, apart from more academics moving to half-time positions in private companies.) [Warning: the picture does not work well with the dark background theme of this blog.]

the future of conferences

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2019 by xi'an

The last issue of Nature for 2018 offers a stunning collection of science photographs, ten portraits of people who mattered (for the editorial board of Nature), and a collection of journalists’ entries on scientific conferences. The later point leading to interesting questioning on the future of conferences, some of which relate to earlier entries on this blog. Like attempts to make them having a lesser carbon footprint, by only attending focused conferences and workshops, warning about predatory ones, creating local hives on different continents that can partake of all talks but reduce travel and size and still allow for exchanges person to person, multiply the meetings and opportunities around a major conference to induce “only” one major trip (as in the past summer of British conferences, or the incoming geographical combination of BNP and O’Bayes 2019), cut the traditional dreary succession of short talks in parallel in favour of “unconferences” where participants set communally the themes and  structure of the meeting (but ware the dangers of bias brought by language, culture, seniority!). Of course, this move towards new formats will meet opposition from several corners, including administrators who too often see conferences as a pretense for paid vacations and refuse supporting costs without a “concrete” proof of work in the form of a presentation.Another aspect of conference was discussed there, namely the art of delivering great talks. Which is indeed more an art than a science, since the impact will not only depend on the speaker and the slides, but also on the audience and the circumstances. As years pile on, I am getting less stressed and probably too relaxed about giving talks, but still rarely feel I have reached toward enough of the audience. And still falling too easily for the infodump mistake… Which reminds me of a recent column in Significance (although I cannot link to it!), complaining about “finding it hard or impossible to follow many presentations, particularly those that involved a large number of equations.” Which sounds strange to me as on the opposite I quickly loose track in talks with no equations. And as mathematical statistics or probability issues seems to imply the use of maths symbols and equations. (This reminded me of a short course I gave once in a undisclosed location, where a portion of the audience left after the first morning, due to my use of “too many Greek letters”.) Actually, I am always annoyed at apologies for using proper maths notations, since they are the tools of our trade.Another entry of importance in this issue of Nature is an interview with Katherine Heller and Hal Daumé, as first chairs for diversity and inclusion at N[eur]IPS. Where they discuss the actions taken since the previous NIPS 2017 meeting to address the lack of inclusiveness and the harassment cases exposed there, first by Kristian Lum, Lead Statistician at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), whose blog denunciation set the wheels turning towards a safer and better environment (in stats as well as machine-learning). This included the [last minute] move towards renaming the conference as NeuroIPS to avoid sexual puns on the former acronym (which as a non-native speaker I missed until it was pointed out to me!). Judging from the feedback it seems that the wheels have indeed turned a significant amount and hopefully will continue its progress.