IJCAI sets new standard for industry engagement at meetings

The International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) 2017, held at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre in August, introduced a meeting format that has transformed industry-research-public engagement.

"The industry and public engagement model we adopted at this meeting delivered way beyond our expectations. This was without doubt one of the key success factors that made a very good meeting, a really great meeting," said Club Melbourne Ambassador Professor Michael Georgeff, CEO of Precedence Health Care and former founding member of the Australian Artificial Intelligence Institute.

"Of particular note was the fact that some of the largest companies in the world were active participants – presenting, hosting and engaging throughout this meeting – and the scientific and educational value they brought to the discussion was remarkable", reflected Professor Georgeff.

Industry Day, held on the last day of the conference, altered the pace of the meeting dramatically. The speaker line-up included some of the largest organisations and some of the smallest start-ups in the world. "The speakers during the day were exceptional", said Professor Georgeff. "We were very fortunate to have access to some of the leaders in the global AI industry, particularly from some of the most advanced organisations in China and the wider Asia-Pacific region."

The event was designed to bring together academics, entrepreneurs and investors, supporting greater engagement in a unique way, blending ideas and professional networks.

"We too often view industry as additional support, enablers or sponsors. But in this case industry shared their progress and advancement in AI – their sheer size and extent of AI implementation was eye opening", Professor Georgeff said. "The model the IJCAI adopted in inviting industry to participate and lead, has raised the bar on what industry engagement offers at major international scientific meetings."

Ensuring the program embraced the significant knowledge and opportunity that industry can bring to a scientific meeting has unlocked significant value for the Australian AI community. "International industry were motivated to attend because they want to do business in Australia, recruit talent, access collaborative opportunities within our academic institutions and industry. Instead of just thinking of these companies as sponsors, a dedicated Industry Day offers them a chance to give and get something back themselves." 

Another key aspect of the conference was to invite and embrace general public involvement in scientific meetings. This is another element of success according to Professor Georgeff, and a requirement that many conference steering committees are increasingly addressing. Meetings tend to be heavily geared towards academia and industry – but more now than ever the general public, legislators and regulators are keen to keep pace with technology change.

"We need to ensure a social license is in place with the public in their understanding of the social implications of the technology", offered Professor Georgeff. Scientific meetings can play a very significant role in facilitating this critical engagement. "For AI researchers, understanding the political and social dimensions of these emerging technologies is vital to their future success and adoption. Equally, the public has to understand the possible impact of these technologies so that a more informed public can make better decisions about the future society we desire and help create," he said. 

Scientific meetings across the wider technology landscape need to address this requirement of meaningful and high impact engagement. The imperative is not just for AI researchers, but for all of us working at the frontiers of technology.