I am debating whether to attend ITCS 2012. It's a chance to socialize with the research community. The big plus is that it's in my backyard. I wouldn't need to fly there. I wouldn't have to miss classes. I wouldn't even need to stay at a hotel.
How is it different from STOC/FOCS/SODA? With "innovative" in the title, I am looking for bold, daring, novel features in every aspect of the conference. The classic format has its value, but frankly, it can feel a bit staid. This "innovations" conference may be an opportunity to open the windows and let in some fresh air. This can happen, not only in the research, but also in the organization.
Innovation in the schedule. Is the format going to be the usual sequence of 20-minute talks with no questions and an audience that is for the most part not fully engaged? Will I learn anything there, or will it simply be the usual - primarily a chance to catch up with my friends and colleagues? Microsoft Research, that is helping organize, has the technical power to try out some technical innovations. They could impress us.
- What if they gathered the slides in advance and put them online so that we can look at the slides before attending a talk to help us decide whether we want to attend?
- What if people could attend the talks remotely? What if they had a mirror site in Seattle or Tsinghua, where there would be a secondary meeting gathering the locals?
- What if the audience could vote for the most interesting talks, and at the end of each day we would have the "best talk of the day" prize with a little gold star for the winner, like in kindergarden?
- What if people could, during the talk, send anonymous remarks such as "You just lost me there" in real time, so that the speaker may adjust his talk to his audience?
- What if each speaker gave two short talks, the first summarizing his contributions and the other one (maybe the next day) answering questions, with an interval in between for people to send in their questions? If there were no questions, then the second talk would simply be cancelled.
- What if the talk was given, not by the author, but by one of the program committee members, and the author was only there to contribute the slides and help answer questions?
- What if the contributions were paired up (as happens in economics), each of the two authors gave a 5-minute summary of their paper, and then they would argue about their results for the next half hour, with the help of the moderator and of the audience to steer the discussion in interesting directions with good questions?
There are so many possible innovations. Since this conference, unlike STOC or FOCS, is unencumbered by the constraints of tradition, why not try one innovation, and if it doesn't work, try another one next year? How else are we going to get away from the rut of mind-numbing sequences of technical talks? I wish this conference was less ponderous and took itself less seriously, was more willing to take risks even on the organizational side. I don't really care which innovation is chosen, as long as they do attempt to do something different.
Innovation in the local organization. Is it going to be another of those expensive events, an unmemorable, overpriced banquet at some high-end hotel? Instead, how about something completely different? For example, in this time of economic recession, how about paying $25 for each participant and taking them for dinner at a local soup kitchen (list here)? I bet almost no one among the participants has ever eaten at a soup kitchen, so it could be an interesting experience and would also subsidize the local social services.
The problem is the decisional structure. Who is going to take this kind of decisions? For any proposed innovation, any committee is sure to shoot it down, and the only consensual decision would be the status quo. So, I don't know how change can happen other than in tiny increments. Being bold may be impossible.