Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Burning Man, IJCAI style.. (or assembling a ~2000 strong program committee from scratch for a one time task..)

Once every year, in the Black rock desert of Nevada, an entire city springs up to support Burning Man, the storied desert festival.  As the festival site says, Burning Man is a vibrant participatory metropolis generated by its citizens (only to be erased and rebuilt again the next year).

Then there is the haunting Tibetan Buddhist ritual of Mandala formation,  where an exquisite sand painting is created painstakingly over days, only to be erased once it is done.

I  think about these as I look at the 2000 strong IJCAI Program Committee winding down their reviewing and making final decisions on the  2300 papers submitted to IJCAI.

They gathered out of thin air over the last six months. For the main track, it started with me recruiting 44 area chairs, they  recruiting 340 senior program committee members, who then recruited 1400 PC members. All the recruitment was done through good old fashioned (and ultra low-tech?)  email.

Last week, we provided a mechanism for the program committee members to nominate their colleagues for exemplary reviewing and discussion. To date, we have already received 130  nominations. It is so gratifying to read the justifications accompanying these nominations.  Makes me proud to be a member of the community that takes reviewing responsibilities so conscientiously!  Something all the more heartening, considering the fact that peer reviewing is  not something that is explicitly incentivized by the normal performance recognition mechanisms! (In the coming weeks, I hope to share more metrics about the reviewing process.)

I wish I knew all the program committee members, so I could thank them personally. But, AI is just too large and diverse for that! So, instead this is my public thanks.

May be there are better alternatives that provide for a persistent program committee (IROS seems to do this). But I wonder if  we will miss the  Burning Man/Mandala feel with them.


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