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The ‘Neural Information Processing Systems’, or ‘NIPS’, a well-known machine learning and computational neuroscience conference adopted ‘NeurIPS’ as an alternative acronym for the conference, last week. The acronym ‘NIPS’ had been under the spotlight worldwide over the past few years as some members of the community thought of the acronym as “sexist” and pointed out that it is offensive towards women.

“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”, mentioned the NeurIPS team. NIPS team also added that they have taken a couple of measures to support the new acronym. This is why all signage and the program booklet for the 2018 meeting will have either the full conference name or NeurIPS mentioned to refer to the conference. Sponsors have also been asked to make sure that they make the required changes within their document materials.

A branding company has also been hired to get a new logo designed for the conference. Moreover, the conference site has been moved to neurips.cc. “one forward-thinking member of the community purchased neurips.com and described the site’s purpose as ‘host[ing] the conference content under a different acronym… until the board catches up,” as mentioned on NeurIPS news page.

NIPS organizers had conducted a  poll, back in August, on the NIPS website asking people if they agree or disagree with the name change. Around 30% of the respondents had answered that they support the name change (28% males and about 44% females) while 31% ‘strongly disagreed’ with the name change proposal (31% male and 25% female). This had led to NIPS keeping the name as it is.

However, many people were upset by the board’s decision, and when the emphasis on a name change within the community became evident, the name got revised. One such person who was greatly dissatisfied with the decision was Anima Anandkumar, director of Machine Learning at Nvidia, who had started a petition on change.org last month. The petition managed to gather 1500 supporters as of today.

“The acronym of the conference is prone to unwelcome puns, such as the perhaps subversively named pre-conference “TITS” event and juvenile t-shirts such as “my NIPS are NP-hard”, that add to the hostile environment that many ML researchers have unfortunately been experiencing” reads the petition.

Anima pointed out that some of these incidents trigger uncomfortable memories for many researchers who have faced harassing behavior in the past. Moreover, Anandkumar tweeted out with #ProtestNIPS in support of the conference changing its name, which received over 300 retweets.

After the board’s decision to rebrand the name, Anandkumar tweeted out thanking everyone for their 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 in #ml”.

Other than Anandkumar, many other people had been equally active in amplifying the support for #protestNIPS.

People in support of #protestNIPS

Jeff Dean, head of Google AI

Dean had tweeted in support of Anandkumar, saying that NIPS should take the issue of name change seriously:

Dr. Elana J Fertig, Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics, Johns Hopkins

Elana had also tweeted in support of #protestNIPS. “These type of attitudes cannot be allowed to prevail in ML. Women need to be welcome to these communities. #WomenInSTEM”

Daniela Witten, professor of (bio)statistics, University of Washington

Witten tweeted saying: “I am so disappointed in @NipsConference for missing the opportunity to join the 21st century and change the name of this conference. But maybe the worst part is that their purported justification is based on a shoddy analysis of their survey results”.

“Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to share thoughts and concerns regarding this important issue. We were considering alternative acronyms when the community support for NeurIPS became apparent. We ask all attendees this year to respect this solution from the community and to use the new acronym in order that the conference focus can be on science and ideas”, mentioned the NeurIPS team.

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Tech writer at the Packt Hub. Dreamer, book nerd, lover of scented candles, karaoke, and Gilmore Girls.