The American Association for Artificial Intelligence, will be minus hundreds of leading Chinese AI researchers who have been limited by travel restrictions.
Qlang Yang of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was indeed looking forward to AAAI, one of the largest AI conferences, which takes place in New York just this week.
Yang was supposed to present an award-winning document describing a way for an AI algorithm to mitigate an image recognition by drawing from different variable data sets without revealing their contents. Yang thus decided to cancel the entire trip due to the global health emergency crisis triggered by the coronavirus in China. However, Yang estimates that around 800 + attendees from the mainland China area, about a fifth of the 4,000 registered for the conference, will miss the event due to a travel ban imposed by the US on Monday.
“It’s a big pity,” Yang says via WeChat from his residence in Hong Kong. “In a way it shows how AI advancement depends on the efforts from both the US and China, among others. AI is truly a global effort.”
The WTO declared the coronavirus a global health emergency this last week. The deadly and contagious virus has infected more than 24,000 people, killing 490, and leaving more than 3,000 in a critical condition according to the latest information from the China’s National Health Commission.
The coronavirus is still spreading quickly from its origins from Wuhan, much of China has effectively ground to a halt as businesses suspend operations and people remain indoors. But the global nature of modern supply chains, research operations, and academic work means that ripple effects are spreading across business and technology even more rapidly.
The American Association for AI, which organizes the event, was unable to say precisely how many researchers from China were due to attend this year. Yang says that many of the Chinese researchers who will miss the event have chosen to stay up all night in order to present via video call instead.
The effects of the outbreak on the AAAI conference shows the strength that China has mustered up in fundamental AI research in recent years. China already produces more scientific papers on AI than the US, and research published last March by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence suggests that the quality of those papers is rising rapidly.
The negative impact of numerous Chinese researchers that will not be attending is undoubtedly bad for progress in AI and the industry this permeates. As one of the year’s most prominent and popular gatherings, AAAI is an important place to discuss important ideas, hatch startup plans, and hire hotshot students.
The dire situation points to a close relationship that still exists between US and Chinese academia, despite the competitive tension felt by the governments in Washington and Beijing. Few areas of technology are not somehow tied to China. The country is a major hub of manufacturing and business but increasingly also an epicenter of research.
At a AI photonics industry event held in San Francisco this week, for instance, some Chinese companies were in attendance, having arrived before travel restrictions went into effect. But the show floor also had to be hastily rearranged, with plants and seats replacing booths, to hide the fact that other Chinese companies were unable to come.
Prolonged Air travel restrictions will affect many technologies that rely on international collaboration and competition. Both LG and ZTE announced this week that due to the coronavirus they will be absent from another global tech and business gathering, Mobile World Congress. Held at the end of this month in Barcelona, the event is a major showcase for advanced smartphones and communications technologies, including the next-generation wireless technology known as 5G.