ON THURSDAY IN Montreal, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau boasted about his country’s leading position in artificial intelligence and openness to international collaboration. A few miles away, the world’s largest AI conference proceeded without scores of researchers denied visas by Trudeau’s government.
All week, Montreal has played host to 8,000 people attending the NeurIPS conference, which ends Saturday. But well over 100 researchers with tickets to attend the event or its associated workshops, including many who planned to present work, are absent due to visa denials or delays.
AI researchers say the visa problems undermine efforts to make their field more inclusive, and less likely to produce technology that discriminates or disadvantages people who aren’t white or Western. Scores of people due to attend or present work at Black in AI, a workshop that took place Friday, were unable to travel to Canada. Many were coming from African countries.
“We’re trying to democratize AI so it works for all people, not just some,” says Rediet Abebe, a grad student at Cornell who one is of the event’s organizers. “The process to apply for Canadian visas has been very difficult for many people.” That’s a worry not just for this year’s conference, but because NeurIPS for the next two years will be held in Vancouver.
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