Impressions of IJCAI 2019

This summer I got to attend the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) for the third year in a row!

First impressions of Macau

Since I’m spending this summer at UofT, I had to travel for just under 30 hours to get from Toronto to Macau, where I shared an airbnb with my colleague Marie and our master student Daniël. I arrived around midnight, in a 30-degree humid heat, with a 12-hour jetlag and still a bit flustered by the protests I encountered at Hong Kong airport. While the airbnb wasn’t particularly fancy (we are on a budget, after all) I was grateful for the AC, the cool shower, and the opportunity to check the wheels of my suitcase for crushed cockroach.

After a short night on my part, we walked to the west entrance of The Venetian: the hotel/casino that would host the conference. The Venetian was… an experience. During one of the breaks, I sneaked upstairs to check out the replica of Venice they built on the third floor. It was… an experience. All the stores and all the people made me dizzy, and the building seemed to have been designed by M.C. Escher: no matter where I went, I always ended up at the shoppes or the casino.

The canals and shoppes of Venice inside the Venetian in Macau.

I quickly learned that it was better to stay outside. The outside temperature never went below 30 °C, and with the high humidity, hot sun and occasional thunderstorm, most of us were soaked within a minute of leaving the venue. Therefore, we tended to stay inside, checking out the food courts of the adjacent hotels during our lunch breaks.

All the kitsch and replicas, as well as the mimes in the Parisian and the singing gondoliers in the Venetian created such a surreal feeling of dreaming in me. A very weird place to go for doing your job as a computer scientist, indeed.

The Data Mining meets Optimisation workshop

The ADA research group sent a delegation of four researchers to IJCAI this year. Aside from Marie, Daniël and me, our professor Holger Hoos also came to Macau, just in time for the Data Mining meets Optimisation workshop at which our group presented no less than two papers!

After Daniël presented his paper (I am so proud!) and Marie presented hers (she has so much authority!) in the morning, Holger gave an invited talk about Cooperative competition: A new way of solving challenging problems in AI and beyond, giving us all food for thought for the reception afterwards. Of course, our mascotte, little Ada, was there to support us. Later, she came with us for a celebratory drink, showing her support for CLAIRE, too.

Little Ada Lovelace, our Lego mother of Computing, supporting the CLAIRE initiative. See how she resembles Leiden University’s Minerva?

My IJCAI highlights

One of my main highlights was getting to see professor Adnan Darwiche talk about his work. Throughout my short career as a PhD student, I kept returning to his work. In particular I have been building on his ideas of knowledge compilation: clever ways of representing solutions to problems that allow us to reason about those problems in a very fast manner. Darwiche inspires me as someone who, even at this stage of his career, still publishes papers all by himself. He is a great example to me, and it was incredible to get the opportunity to attend his talk on Reasoning about the behaviour of AI systems.

I was also very excited to attend talks by so many of the amazing fellow PhD students and postdocs I’ve met over the years: dr. Sebastijan Dumančić presented two papers in the Understanding Intelligence and Human-level AI in the New Machine Learning Era track and received an honorable mention for the EurAI Distinguished Dissertation Award 2018, and Alberto Camacho presented so many papers on Linear Temporal Logic (LTL) in both workshops and main conference, that I frankly lost count. Aside from these presentations, I also attended those of dr. Emir Demirović, Mohit Kumar, prof. dr. Lars Kotthoff and many, many more. All in all, there were so many presentations by these research friends, that they even overlapped, and I had to choose! (And no, I won’t tell you whose talks I did not get to attend 😉 )

This year was the second time that I attended the Women’s Lunch. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but I got the impression that the organisers made a real effort to include the younger generation of female AI researchers in the community. Almost all of the senior women present at the lunch approached me to introduce themselves or to just have a chat.

Finally, of course, there was my own presentation. Unfortunately, I was awarded a time slot at the end of a session at the end of the day at the end of the conference, so the audience wasn’t as alert and attentive as I would’ve hoped. Despite this, they asked some interesting questions and laughed at my jokes, so that was good.

When I think back at how much effort went into this paper, it is hard to believe. I might actually write a blog post about it one day, for I reckon it could be interesting for someone outside academia to get a glimpse of what goes into publishing a bit of research at a conference. For now, the most important thing to say is that I feel very, very fortunate to have worked on this project with two of the most dedicated, smartest, kindest researchers I know: dr. Behrouz Babaki and prof. dr. Siegfried Nijssen.

Time for some R&R

Occasionally, we have a little time for being a tourist. I went to the northern part of Macau on two different evenings, sampling the local food. On another evening we went to visit the fake Eiffel Tower and looked out over all the lights in the city.

Looking out over Old Macau (and in particular the Ruins of St. Paul’s) from the Monte do Forto.

On our last day we went to Macau tower for lunch. It has a rotating restaurant and we very much enjoyed the view, both of the city and of the people bungee-jumping off the tower!

View from Macau Tower.

After lunch we went to see the Guia Lighthouse and Lou Lim Loc garden. Unfortunately all in the pouring rain, but we still enjoyed the views and the turtles. We bought some bubble tea and took a taxi back to the hotel. From there, I took a bus to the ferry to Hong Kong, to continue my travels there.