Machine Learning is a field with an impressively diverse set of reseearch styles. Understanding this may be important in appreciating what you see at a conference.
- Engineering. How can I solve this problem? People in the engineering research style try to solve hard problems directly by any means available and then describe how they did it. This is typical of problem-specific conferences and communities.
- Scientific. What are the principles for solving learning problems? People in this research style test techniques on many different problems. This is fairly common at ICML and NIPS.
- Mathematical. How can the learning problem be mathematically understood? People in this research style prove theorems with implications for learning but often do not implement (or test algorithms). COLT is a typical conference for this style.
Many people manage to cross these styles, and that is often beneficial.
Whenver we list a set of alternative, it becomes natural to think “which is best?” In this case of learning it seems that each of these styles is useful, and can lead to new useful discoveries. I sometimes see failures to appreciate the other approaches, which is a shame.