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AI conference widely known as ‘NIPS’ changes its controversial acronym

The major machine-learning meeting, now to be called NeurIPS, has faced increasing criticism over its name.

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The board that runs a leading machine-learning conference has decided to stop using the acronym commonly used to refer to the event — NIPS — following a long-running row over whether it is offensive.

The annual meeting — the full name of which is Neural Information Processing Systems — will now go by the moniker NeurIPS, the NeurIPS foundation board of trustees, which oversees the annual conference, has said. The change will apply immediately and will be in force at the next meeting in early December.

The move reverses the board’s decision in October not to change the acronym, and comes after weeks of mounting pressure about the name and the hostile environment that some women say they have experienced at the event in the past.

In April, the NIPS Twitter account said that the board would consider a name change, following a letter signed by more than 120 academics from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, calling for the conference to be rebranded.

The letter highlighted “disappointing behavior” at the 2017 event and said that the “acronym of the conference is prone to unwelcome puns”. It gave examples from previous years such as an unofficial pre-conference event named TITS.

The board subsequently ran a survey of previous attendees to see what they thought about changing the name. And on 17 October, it announced that it would not change the name after 30% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the name should change, including 44% of all women who voted.

Many machine-learning researchers reacted angrily to the news. And a petition stating that the NIPS acronym “encourages sexism and is a slur”, launched by Anima Anandkumar, a machine-learning researcher at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, garnered almost 2,000 signatures.

On 16 November, the board of the conference announced in a statement that the abbreviation NeurIPS had “sprung up organically as an alternative acronym”. “We’re delighted to see it being adopted,” they add.

The board writes that a “forward-thinking member of the community”, Peter Henderson, a PhD student at Stanford University in California, purchased the website neurips.com. The board quotes him as stating that he would “host the conference content under a different acronym … until the board catches up”.

“We’ve caught up!” says the board in its statement. “We ask all attendees this year to respect this solution from the community and to use the new acronym in order that the conference focus can be on science and ideas.”

All signage and the programme booklet will contain either the full conference name or the new abbreviation, the board members say. They have also asked sponsors to update their material and publicity accordingly, and will hire a branding company to design a new logo for the event, which starts on 2 December in Montreal, Canada.

Anandkumar, tweeted that NeurIPS was a compromise. “I wish we could have started with a clean slate and done away with problematic legacy,” she said on 17 November.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-07476-w
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