Saturday, December 20, 2008

NIPS 2008

I recently spent a week in the Vancouver area attending NIPS 2008 (which stands for Neural Information Processing Systems). While the name might be slightly misleading, it is in fact the largest machine learning conference in existence. The main conference is a marathon that stretches across four days, with each day starting from the early morning and ending in poster sessions that often last until midnight.

NIPS has a strong tradition of tying together machine learning and biology-related research. This year featured invited talks by Daniel Wolpert on computational methods for human-motor control, Sabastian Seung on mapping every neural connection in the human brain, and by Rebecca Saxe whose talk I unfortunately missed. Attending research conferences can be quite invigorating. As one of the great enabling fields, machine learning offers remarkable promise in designing useful models for all types of application domains. I often find myself very inspired after listening to success stories.

After the main conference concluded, we gathered onto shuttle buses for a two and a half hour ride to the Whistler ski village, where the workshops are held. The NIPS workshops are the best research workshops I have ever attended or heard about. The location is great, the venue (the Hilton Ski Resort at Whistler) is fantastic, the audience is littered with prominent machine learning researchers. All in all, the NIPS workshops offer a great forum for discussion regarding exciting new machine learning research.

I'm currently working on algorithms that an information retrieval system (such as a search engine) might use for interactively learning from its users. My results are largely theoretical at the moment (i.e., proofs), but I hope to implement learning experiments on real search systems in the near future. You can catch a video of my workshop talk using the link below.

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