Monday, October 08, 2007

CEC 2007 Conference Report

So, the 2007 IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation is now over. Actually, it's been over for the last ten days. Sorry for taking such time to update my blog, I'm out backpacking at the moment to celebrate finishing my PhD, and I try not to spend all my vacation in front of a computer (even though it's hard fighting that Internet addiction)!

Overall, CEC was an excellent event this year as well. A generous supply of on average really good keynote and invited speakers, so many parallel sessions that there was always something interesting going on, and a superb organization. The only things I would have done differently is spreading the conference out on five or six instead of four days, and not charging money for the tutorials (in fact, many of the tutorials are the same as are included in the general registration for Gecco or PPSN). But those are really minor issues. (A major issue that CEC shares with Gecco and some other conferences is the too low entry barriers / too high acceptance rates, but that's stuff for another blog post.)

Simon's keynote on Evolutionary Computation and Games went down really well, it seems. Apparently, more and more EC researchers are warming up to the idea of using games as testbeds for their algorithms. Simon plugged the car racing competition as well, and there were lots of people talking to me about it in appreciative terms both before and after I presented the results. It seems we have quite a momentum for these kinds of activities at the moment.

Hugo de Garis' invited talk was interesting in a very different way. Actually, it was quite sad. de Garis is known for his huge ambitions and provocative statements, (evolving "artificial brains" as complex as those of kittens, or was it even humans this time around?) so I was looking forward to bold new theories on how such grand aims should be achieved. What followed was some very conventional neuroevolution stuff, and a complete failure to appreciate the real challenge in putting all his evolved neural modules together. Most importantly, he has absolutely no empirical results to show. Predictably, the audience gave him a hard time during the question round.

Other interesting talks included those of Jong-Hwan Kim, the father of RoboCup, on evolvable artificial creatures for ubiquitous robotics, and of Marc Schoenauer on how modern bio-inspired (and population-based) continuous optimisation algorithms such as CMA-ES and PSO now often outperform the orthodox optimisation algorithms used by the applied maths people, on their own benchmark problems. Quite cool.

By the way, did I point out that the organization was superb? Anyway, it deserves saying again. The Stamford convention centre is not only lavishly, but also tastefully, decorated and conference delegates were continuously tended to by an army of servants making sure that we always had something to eat and drink and knew where the venue for the next talk was. The food was simply fantastic, the night safari at the end of the conference was a very nice event, and the conference banquet had nine (!) courses. I can't imagine how our conference fees can have paid for all this - some of the sponsors must have contributed serious money. Rooms were generally easy to find, and most importantly, there was plenty of places where you could just bump into old and new people and have those all-important corridor chats. In all, a very rewarding experience.

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