Last week I attended the second half of NIPS 2015. It was great! I am an experimental particle physicist, not a professional machine-learning guy. This was the first time I went to NIPS and it was very different from big conferences I have experienced in particle physics.
This post is a summary of my impressions, and a reading list of sorts.
NIPS takes place from Monday to Saturday. The first day is tutorials, and the last two are dedicated to workshops. On all other days the conference operates in single track mode. There are a few longer talks each day but the majority of the time is dedicated to "spotlight" talks. These are three minute long talks about a selected few of the day's posters. Then there are the epic poster sessions each day.
The workshops are organised by "outsiders" (not conference organisers), and there are a lot of them in parallel.
Overall about 3700 people attended the conference.
I was not just a tourist in machine-learning wonderland, I had to do some work as well. I gave an invited talk at the ALEPH workshop on Friday. In the same workshop Gilles talked about some work we did together: Pitfalls of evaluating a classifier's performance in high energy physics applications.
More physicists should go and give talks at NIPS. You can learn a lot, make connections to people you would not otherwise meet, and have your mind blown by the craze that is deep learning.
Particle physics (HEP) has hard and interesting problems to solve. Attracting the skills of the machine learning community would be great. HEP would make progress faster, and it would spark interesting research for the NIPS community. Right now the barrier to entry to HEP is extremely high though. We should work on fixing that.
Posters, posters, posters
The first surprise was that how many poster sessions there are at NIPS and how well attended they are.
Given the conference format, it makes sense, but it was still surprising for me. At most physics conferences the focus is on short talks in parallel sessions.
I enjoyed having the opportunity to ask really dumb questions to the poster presenters without having to reveal my ignorance to a room full of experts. I tried to prepare for the two poster sessions I was in town for by reading the abstracts for that session. It helped, but I would have had to do a lot mroe studying for it to be really useful. Just walking around and reading the introduction to each poster turned out to be quite a good strategy. I usually ran out of posters before the session was over.
The other big differnce was how many people from industry attended the conference. Basically everywhere you saw someone wearing something branded by Google DeepMind or FAIR.
There were also a lot of parties or dinners organised by companies. This does not happen at physics conferences. I am sure if you wanted to you could have eaten and drunk for free all week. Ideal for grad students?!?
Below follows a collection of things I found interesting or want to investigate further. It is half todo list, and half recommendations.
There are a lot of them. Interesting thoughts about how to organise coopetitions if the aim is to produce and share new knowledge. The ALPEH Workshop, not just because I gave a talk there ... Bayesian optimisation, we optimise everything! Reasoning, attention, memory, did not attend but looking forward to videos. Transfer learning, what if training and testing densities are not the same (also known as: my simulator is not perfect!!).
This is a unordered list of posters, talks or otherwise interesting things that ended up on my reading list. karpathy's machine-learning powered overview of the NIPS papers.
Pointer networks, solve the travelling salesman problem, and other problems where the length of the output sequence is not known. Useful for track reconstruction?
Semi-supervised Learning with Ladder Networks, looked at the poster, listened to a talk, started reading the paper and still I am confused. Very interesting though as LHCb has huge amounts of unlabelled data.
Efficient Non-greedy Optimization of Decision Trees Decision trees are usually iduced in a greedy fashion. What are the advantages of this approach?
Convolutional Networks on Graphs for Learning Molecular Fingerprints, how to deal with graphs of unknown length and perform learning on them. They applied it to predicting properties of molecules, could be useful for track reconstruction?
Generalization in Adaptive Data Analysis and Holdout Reuse "Thresholdout", differential privacy allows you to reuse your holdout set. How does this compare to nested cross-validation?
End-To-End Memory Networks, I understand very little about what they do, but it got a lot of attention.
Hidden Technical Debt in Machine Learning Systems, complicated pipelines of sophisticated algorithms incure technical debt, ya don't say!
Deep Convolutional Inverse Graphics Network, how is it that humans can recognise a face in completely different lighting conditions and a new pose after seeing it only once? Take a look at Tenenbaum's other submissions as well and this article in Science.
Spatial Transformer Networks, a network module that cna larn to undo spatial transformations before classification. Presenting upside-down digits to your network? Plug in this module which will orientate them correctly and then classify them. Check out the lasagne code.
Bunch of leftovers: http://papers.nips.cc/paper/5653-a-recurrent-latent-variable-model-for-sequential-data, http://papers.nips.cc/paper/5883-consistent-multilabel-classification, http://papers.nips.cc/paper/5773-deep-generative-image-models-using-a-laplacian-pyramid-of-adversarial-networks, http://papers.nips.cc/paper/5945-teaching-machines-to-read-and-comprehend, http://papers.nips.cc/paper/5881-optimization-monte-carlo-efficient-and-embarrassingly-parallel-likelihood-free-inference
All accepted papers are listed here: Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 28
It was a great experience! I saw a great deal of new things, and I now have reading material for the next few months. Let's see if I ever get to the end. If you get a chance to go to NIPS, take it. NIPS will be in Barcelona in 2016.