A top artificial intelligence (AI) conference will officially use a different acronym as its shorthand name, following months of controversy fuelled in part by last year’s event when keynote speaker Elon Musk reportedly made a joke about “tits.”
For decades, the Neural Information Processing Systems conference has gone by NIPS, which is both a disparaging slur for Japanese people and a sexualized slang for women’s nipples. The name has fostered many sexist jokes and offended member over the years, but the matter stirred a fever pitch in 2017 when the conference was preceded by an unofficial pre-conference named “TITS.”
Last month, the board decided not to change the name after giving its community a chance to vote on the matter. At the time, the board wrote that “polling conducted by the Team did not yield a clear consensus, and no significantly better alternative name emerged.”
But since then, many vocal critics of the name have led the charge through a #ProtestNIPS movement and Change.org petition that has been signed nearly 2,000 times. The movement emphasised that the name only invites harassment and hinders inclusivity efforts.
It seems the campaign pushed the board to take some action, or at least compromise. On November 16, the board announced it was changing its acronym to NeurIPS.
A spokesperson for Neural Information Processing Systems said the board could not provide a comment by time of publishing, but referred Gizmodo to a public letter the board sent to the NeurIPS community:
Something remarkable has happened in our community. The name NeurIPS has sprung up organically as an alternative acronym, and we’re delighted to see it being adopted. Indeed, one forward-thinking member of the community purchased neurips.com and described the site’s purpose as “...host[ing] the conference content under a different acronym... until the board catches up.”
We’ve caught up! We were considering alternative acronyms when the community support for NeurIPS became apparent. 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.
The letter also states that the board has “taken several actions to support this acronym,” including changing the name on all program booklets and signage for the December 3-8 conference, requesting all sponsors change the name on their material, and hiring a designer to create a new logo.
We will update this post if the board shares an updated comment.
Thank you everyone for your overwhelming support for #protestNIPS I wish we could have started with a clean slate and done away with problematic legacy, but this is a compromise. I hope we can all continue to work towards better inclusion in #ml https://t.co/izWOVOMwXD
— Anima Anandkumar (@AnimaAnandkumar) November 17, 2018
Anima Anandkumar, a Caltech professor and director of machine learning research at Nvidia who helped lead the #ProtestNIPS campaign and started the Change.org petition calling upon board members to change the name, told Gizmodo she is “glad that the name change finally happened, but disappointed that it took so much effort to convince the board.”
“I was subject to trolling and harassment on social media when I pushed for this,” Anandkumar told Gizmodo. “So many women wrote to me that they were bullied and senior men commanded that they should not sign the petition I started. All these show we have such a long way to go, but nevertheless, this is a change in the positive direction.”