Thursday, November 05, 2009


The new Innovations in Computer Science conference announced their accepted papers earlier this week including my paper with Rahul Santhanam "Bounding Rationality by Discounting Time". Shiva is collecting PDF pointers (hope to get ours posted and on that list soon).

According to Noam, "this is the most interesting list of accepted papers that I’ve seen in years". Suresh seems happy too but some of his commenter's were less impressed. I view ICS as playing an orthogonal to STOC/FOCS, trying to present papers with potentially interesting ideas that wouldn't normally be accepted into STOC or FOCS. 

Why does STOC and FOCS not accept many innovative papers, even after adding the line "Papers that broaden the reach of theory, or raise important problems that can benefit from theoretical investigation and analysis, are encouraged" to the CFP? Since I can remember, STOC has focused more on solving well-defined problems with a deference towards technical proofs. A more innovative papers, that is a new model with a few simple results, tends to be harder to sell as one needs strong motivation and a model that really captures that motivation. When we do have more innovative papers they tend to be selected based on the authors more than the content. 

But this problem has gotten worse in recent years as our field has grown and PCs seem unwilling to trade a solid technical paper for a risky innovative one. When the PC meets, an innovative paper has a higher standard, the need to justify a new model or problem. Papers that answer old open questions or extend earlier work can justify their models simply because those models have appeared in earlier conferences. But no theoretical model can exactly capture a real world scenario so one can always find negative things to say about any innovative model, causing more traditional papers to often win the fight for those last few acceptance slots.

ICS did not accept as wide a spectrum of papers as I would have liked, probably due more to lack of a broad submission base. And the models of most of these papers will likely go nowhere but the hope is some will go to instigate new research areas.

Given the accepted papers can we tell yet if ICS is a success or a failure? Not yet and that's the point. Wait five years and see what fraction of papers from ICS (compared to STOC/FOCS) are still relevant and then we'll know.


  1. From my point of view (more interested in graphs and geometry than in classical game theory, derandomization, or quantum computing) the list of accepted paper titles is almost indistinguishable from those at FOCS/STOC. So I am a little surprised to see you say they are orthogonal.

  2. Hi Lance,

    Would you be so kind to add the PDF link to your paper with Rahul Santhanam "Bounding Rationality by Discounting Time" in this post (assuming you've made the PDF file accessible online already)?


  3. I think it is great to have a conference that pushes innovations. However, I see a lot of papers which have been rejected from other conferences, for good reasons. Often the questions/problems are just not interesting and too quirky. I hope that ICS does not become a conference which accepts "random ideas" only.

    Nevertheless, ICS has great potential. It also has the money and a fantastic programme committee to actually pull it off.
    I fully agree with Lance, we will see in 5 years time what ICS is worth.

  4. fantastic programme committee ?

    Yes, most of the names have been bought with money and funding from our political party. Academically Ms Wang doesnt make sense to be on board committee. I have not seen any breakthrough idea by Yuexuan WANG neither any decent paper. Rumour has it that her publications are accepted by status of her position.

  5. charlie,
    that's very interesting. while I do not know anyone in person at that place, I know of some people who work(ed) there and I think that they had similar views on that specific matter.

    A general theme, once you obtain a certain position in academia the process of getting published becomes much easier despite the quality of your work.
    Generally, I have a mixed feelings about what is happening over there. but it's certainly interesting to watch.

  6. Charlie and "inteersting"

    Please don't pollute the discussion with unnecssary comments. That the committee is fantastic is an evaluation of the set collectively, which I think everyone agrees, is indeed fantastic. I am sure exceptions like you point to can be found everywhere, but don't seem to harm the quality of the conferences.

  7. Charlie is trolling. Yuexuan Wang is not in the PC, but in the local arrangements committee.

  8. I've heard some pretty wild and sad stories about how visitors are treated over there. Seems to be like on the mood basis.

    But I agree with anon#1 that's not the place to raise your opinion (even if true and factual) about Yuexuan Wang nor problems related to her or other things.

    It's a place that adheres to strict diplomatic manners.

    I am not saying this because I sympathize with either the person in question or the school, but I am saying it out of courtesy to the Lance who provides this space for us to use. We are all visitors in the Lance Land, let's not forget this.

  9. and Bill's land too...

  10. the issue related to Professor Yuexuan Wang is very compelling. I am always interested to know more especially before sending out my postdoc application.

  11. It looks like some people cannot even distinguish between local arrangement committee and program committee. ICS no doubt has an excellent program committee and superb steering committee, so at least we can be assured, that it has not and will not accept papers on "random" ideas.

    BTW, Can somebody post a list of 10 papers from FOCS and STOC 2005-2009, that you believe will have/ had serioud impact ? It will be good to know these best 10 papers of five years.

  12. last anon:
    nearly correct. To be nicely diplomatic, it did accept some "random" ideas from superb people. Which I think makes somehow somewhat sense.

    What shouldn't be surprising is the amount of publications given the inflow of huge funding. Any decent university would most likely have a similar output results (or better). Then again what about the quality ????
    Many mini results ...............................................

  13. Two cents worth:

    It would probably not be too harsh to say that people @ITCS are in need of some significant results given the pressure of expectation to perform and also the pressure imposed by all those that have been funding its cause.

    The institute has realized that new "revolutionary ideas" cannot come from within, thus the outcry to interlink in form of establishing and promoting programs with other universities in HK, Japan and the U.S.

    The effort is of course laudable but then again, laudable to what extent ? If you start hiring only recent MIT (/cornell) grads ? Does this say something about MIT or ITCS or better what ITCS is striving for ? Does it want to become a MIT's clone ?
    It would have been far more laudable if people could show "hey, we have come thus far without all this help. We have devised our own original curricula not because we are "franchising" in some capacity but because we are creative and innovative enough to do so. That indeed would be heroic and laudable.

    However, "outsourcing" or plainly "franchising" of the kind that is being promoted now is nothing new and thus also not commendable to the extent it has been ... the PR surrounded by the great efforts is "a little bit" exaggerated and thus disturbing. Yet everytime something happens, it is classified as heroically "patriotic". There is of course a sense of irony here since strictly speaking not everyone in the top administration @ITCS shares the same nationality (if one inspects closely enough).

    To anon#7: There is of course one important result by Xiaotie Deng and Xi Chen. Again, if you look closely enough this result wasn't conceived @ITCS but at Xiaotie Deng's City University in Hong Kong. And look at where Xi Chen is now ? The real challenge is to keep people at ITCS.

    To anon#8: Yes, a lot of "mini results". Whether these are worth it or not, is for others to decide. Also, an interesting issue arises, what can be said about papers that have 5 or more authors ?

    To charlie: emm, yeah, you have to recheck, that person is not actually part of the program committee. But if this is a remark on overall competence, that's altogether a different point which I won't touch on here.

    To anon#4: three stories of three different people I am indirectly aware of. Generally, folks who didn't find things as they had initially expected (or being promised ?). One of the stories that I have been told is so ridiculous that it's kinda very upsetting.

  14. While Ron Rivest is not part of the program committee, how can his sudden appearance at ITCS be explained ? Any ideas ?

  15. interesting point, observer. Very intersting.

  16. observer, Rivest can be found here

    *BTW, Can somebody post a list of 10 papers from FOCS and STOC 2005-2009, that you believe will have/ had serioud impact ? It will be good to know these best 10 papers of five years.* ? anyone ?