California Institute of Technology

The first NIPS (now NeurIPS)

I was the founding program chairman of NIPS/NeurIPS in 1987, with the late Ed Posner as the founding general chairman. Here is a handwritten exchange between us in the course of organizing the conference.

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This inaugural NIPS was held in Denver, Colorado and sponsored by the IEEE Information Theory Group (now Society) that Ed had good connections in. The sponsorship was the reason for choosing "Information Processing" rather than "Computation" in the conference title.

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The conference was initially planned to be held in Boulder, Colorado, but was moved last minute to Denver.

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Not only the venue was changed, but we almost changed the conference name because the acronym "NIPS" had been used as a derogatory term for a certain nationality decades before, but that use was long abandoned so we kept the name. Much later, another indelicate connotation came to be associated with the acronym, which eventually resulted in changing it to NeurIPS.

Among the colleagues who were part of the organization was Dana Anderson who was the publications chairman who edited the first NIPS proceedings

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The title of the Proceedings was "Neural Information Processing Systems" (the red one - all the following ones were blue and added "Advances in" to the title).

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Jim Bower and Larry Jackel were the neurobiology liaison and the physics liaison of the conference, respectively. They extended the reach of the conference to the Society for Neuroscience and the American Physical Society. There were also other colleagues on the organizing committee.

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I invited Carver Mead and Terry Sejnowski to be the first speakers at the conference to cover the engineering side and the biological side of neural networks.

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I was so adamant about the program quality that I wanted to reject a paper by one of the organizers. Ed Posner's response was "you can't go through life like this" :-), and that was the only time I was overruled in the program. I also made it a point to treat the posters as equal to oral presentations. My only paper in the conference was deliberately a poster, and that persuaded people that we were serious about this. The conference was a huge hit, and everyone realized that we have something valuable. Ed and I asked Terry Sejnowski to organize the next NIPS, and the rest is history.