An AI Conference Refusing a Name Change Highlights a Tech Industry Problem

Name Game

There’s a prominent artificial intelligence conference that goes by the suggestive acronym NIPS, which stands for “Neural Information Processing Systems.”

After receiving complaints that the acronym was alienating to women, the conference’s leadership collected suggestions for a new name via an online poll, according to WIRED. But the conference announced Monday that it would be sticking with NIPS all the same.

Knock It Off

It’s convenient to imagine that this acronym just sort of emerged by coincidence, but let’s not indulge in that particular fantasy.

It’s more likely that tech geeks cackled maniacally when they came up with the acronym, and the refusal to do better even when people looking up the conference in good faith are bombarded with porn is a particularly telling failure of the AI research community.

Small Things Matter

This problem goes far beyond a silly name — women are severely underrepresented in technology research and even more so when it comes to artificial intelligence. And if human decency — comforting those who are regularly alienated by the powers that be — isn’t enough of a reason to challenge the sexist culture embedded in tech research, just think about what we miss out on.

True progress in artificial intelligence cannot happen without a broad range of diverse voices — voices that are silenced by “locker room talk” among an old boy’s club. Otherwise, our technological development will become just as stuck in place as our cultural development often seems to be.

READ MORE: AI RESEARCHERS FIGHT OVER FOUR LETTERS: NIPS [WIRED]

More on Silicon Valley sexism: The Tech Industry’s Gender Problem Isn’t Just Hurting Women

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An AI Conference Refusing a Name Change Highlights a Tech Industry Problem

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