It’s 3 AM on a warm Thursday night in December, a usually quiet street in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona is bustling with activity, as a cohort of 200 artificial intelligence researchers leave in single-file out of a sprawling yellow mansion. The police count heads as the researchers film the procession on their phones and tweet #rocketai.
The guest list looked like the results of a search for most popular AI authors on arXiv. Every major corporate and academic AI lab was in attendance — Google DeepMind, Open AI, Facebook AI Research, Google Brain, Stanford University, MIT, U of Montreal, as well as a multitude of other AI start-ups and investors from around the world — all in town for the 30th annual NIPS conference.
NIPS (Neural Information Processing Systems) has become the academic and industry AI conference, growing near-exponentially over the past decade as corporate sponsors fight to keep the loyalty of their engineers and aggressively recruit others. Corporates plan months in advance to parade their capital expenditure and technical talent. Tickets for the main conference, despite nearly doubling in quantity since last year, sold out more than 6 weeks before the event.