NIPS slip: AI’s biggest conference has a name problem

There’s an ongoing debate about changing the name of AI’s most prominent conference that some say contribute to the field’s diversity issues and inspires sexual jokes, according to a report by Wired.

Hundreds of people are petitioning to change the name of the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, which is also commonly referred to as NIPS. While some believe the acronym welcomes jokes about nipples, others believe the name “contributes to an atmosphere unwelcoming to women.”

“University of Washington grad student Maarten Sap’s attempt to follow the brouhaha helped illustrate the complaints from Dean and others: When he plugged ‘nips’ into Twitter’s search function, it led him to pornographic tweets,” the report said.

Last week, the NIPS board announced it would not be changing its name despite the controversy, stating that a poll didn’t “yield a clear consensus on a name change or a well-regarded alternative name.” However, the NIPS board is attempting to make the conference more inclusive following a sexual harassment incident during last year’s conference.

“AI is projected to reshape everything from healthcare to war, but the community of people working on the technology is markedly different from the society it is supposed to serve,” the report said. “WIRED and startup Element AI found that in recent years at NIPS and two other leading academic conferences, only about 12 percent of people presenting work were women. That suggests the field is even less diverse than the notoriously monocultural tech industry. Some researchers fear this raises the risk of incidents like those in which image recognition systems have been found to have skewed views of women or black people.”

So far, more than 800 people and researchers have signed a petition asking the NIPS board to rename the event. Additionally, more than 100 John Hopkins University faculty members wrote an open letter asking the NIPS board to seek a name less “vulnerable to sexual puns,” the report said.

To read the full report, click the link below.