As part of a PASCAL project, the Slovenians have been filming various machine learning events and placing them on the web here. This includes, for example, the Chicago 2005 Machine Learning Summer School as well as a number of other summer schools, workshops, and conferences.
There are some significant caveats here—for example, I can’t access it from Linux. Based upon the webserver logs, I expect that is a problem for most people—Computer scientists are particularly nonstandard in their choice of computing platform.
Nevertheless, the core idea here is excellent and details of compatibility can be fixed later. With modern technology toys, there is no fundamental reason why the process of announcing new work at a conference should happen only once and only for the people who could make it to that room in that conference. The problems solved include:
- The multitrack vs. single-track debate. (“Sometimes the single track doesn’t interest me” vs. “When it’s multitrack I miss good talks”
- “I couldn’t attend because I was giving birth/going to a funeral/a wedding”
- “What was that? I wish there was a rewind on reality.”
There are some fears here too. For example, maybe a shift towards recording and placing things on the web will result in lower attendance at a conference. Such a fear is confused in a few ways:
- People go to conferences for many more reasons than just announcing new work. Other goals include doing research, meeting old friends, worrying about job openings, skiing, and visiting new places. There also a subtle benefit of going to a conference: it represents a commitment of time to research. It is this commitment which makes two people from the same place start working together at a conference. Given all these benefits of going to a conference, there is plenty of reason for them to continue to exist.
- It is important to remember that a conference is a process in aid of research. Recording and making available for download the presentations at a conference makes research easier by solving all the problems listed above.
- This is just another new information technology. When the web came out, computer scientists and physicists quickly adopted a “place any paper on your webpage” style even when journals forced them to sign away the rights of the paper to publish. Doing this was simply healthy for the researcher because his papers were more easily readable. The same logic applies to making presentations at a conference available on the web.