NeurIPS 2018

Over the last few weeks, academic Twitter — well, machine learning-related academic Twitter — has been buzzing about the the Neural Information Processing Systems conference board deciding NOT to change their name.

A quick backstory is that the Neural Information Processing Systems conference has an unfortunate acronym: NIPS. This abbreviation has unfortunate alternative meanings from sexual in nature (the .com domain is taken by a porn site, forcing the conference to use .cc) to racially offensive (a derogatory reference to people of Japanese descent). After some effort to poll the community which resulted in mixed signals, the board decided not to change the name of the conference.

This left people feeling upset since the offensive connotations remain and unfortunate mix-ups continue. Of course there is another side to the debate (let’s not fall prone to censorship, this may be difficult for graduate student trying to build a resume with a name change, this doesn’t solve the underlying issues, etc.), but as Jeff Dean put it, “I think enough people are made to feel uncomfortable by the current name that the NIPS board should change the name of the @NipsConference.”

Fortunately for us as a community, we have some recourse. While I know it’s not satisfactory for many, we can come to a consensus as a community to just stop using the NIPS acronym. One alternative that has been suggested— and which I have heard the most often— is NeurIPS (pronounced either Neur-I-P-S, spelled out, or as one word, neurips, kind of like turnips).

We do have a choice as a community of how we refer to the conference even if the name hasn’t officially changed. If we simply boycott the use of the NIPS acronym and use NeurIPS instead, we can force some change ourselves— rather than waiting for a board to decide it.

To this end, I got the domain name:

Now, if you go there you can see the NeurIPS 2018 schedule. Hopefully this helps to some small extent with inclusivity.

Feel free to use this or not, but I think that if we make progress in shifting the colloquial acronym to one that isn’t offensive, the board will follow suit. In the meantime, if you don’t want to accidentally stumble upon offensive content or use an offensive word, you have an alternative domain name to search.

P.S. If you want to help make the alternative site better, or if you feel that it’s missing content, it’s hosted on Github so you can send a pull request:

P.S.S. If the NeurIPS board decides to switch the acronym over, I can transfer the domain over at any time (provided that it doesn’t just redirect to the old acronym).

P.S.S.S. & FAQ

But this doesn’t solve the underlying sexism and harassment issues, so why bother? You’re right, it doesn’t solve them, but it helps make people feel more included — and you don’t accidentally link a prominent machine learning conference with porn sites… The sooner we use an alternative like NeurIPS, the sooner we can move on from this discussion and refocus on the other tremendously important issues raised by many women attending various scientific conferences. Moreover, if minority groups who have felt harassed or excluded at the conference feel more comfortable with this alternative, this change took almost no time to make with some benefit. The benefit-to-cost ratio there is through the roof.

Why NeurIPS? I really don’t like that, why not AdNIPS or NeuralIPS or <insert favorite alternative here>? I have actually heard multiple people refer to it casually as NeurIPS before. The domain was open. It doesn’t contain the offensive portion. Also, NeurIPS seems to be an abbreviation used in prior literature dating back to 1992. Moreover, several other people have already brought this suggestion up.

How long did this take, why weren’t you writing papers during that time? A few hours. I know I should’ve been writing, but I realized that this would’ve been easy to do and might help make some progress!