The Greatest Trade Show North of Vegas (Pressing Lessons from NeurIPS 2018)

What is a conference? Common definitions provide only a vague sketch: “a meeting of two or more persons for discussing matters of common concern” (Merriam Webster a); “a usually formal interchange of views” (Merriam-Webster b); “a formal meeting for discussion” (Google a).

What qualifies as a meeting? Are all congregations of people in all places conferences? How formal must it be? Must the borders be agreed upon? Does it require a designated name? What counts as a discussion? How many discussions can fit in one conference? Does a sufficiently formal meeting held within the allotted times and assigned premises of a larger, longer conference constitute a sub-conference?

A fun-house array of screens transforms the ordinarily mundane task of locating the current speaker into a puzzle solving exercise at NeurIPS 2018. (photo source

Absent context, the word verges on vacuous. And yet in professional contexts, e.g., among computer science academics, culture endows precise meaning. Google also offers a more colloquial definitions that cuts closer:

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