ECIR 2016 (Padua, Italy)

Author: Andreas Lommatzsch

The European Conference on Information Retrieval 2016 was held in Padua (Italy) from March 20th to March 23rd, 2016. The topics of the conference cover a wide spectrum ranging from classical IR algorithms evaluated on static dataset, to Question Answering, to Evaluation Methodologies and Machine Learning.

The opening keynote was given by Jordan Boyd-Graber (University of Colorado, USA). The interesting talk "Opening up the black box: Interactive Machine Learning" discussed the role of components built based on AI algorithm in the society. In order to trust in these systems, transparent machine learning algorithms are needed, especially for complex tasks. Improving the transparency and the provided explanation is more important that improving the precision for providing the optimal support for decisions made by humans.

On Tuesday Emine Yilmaz (University College London, UK) gave the keynote titled "A Task-based Perspective to IR". The talk outlined that IR should focus on task trees. In contrast to simple list of documents ranked by assumed relevance, task trees are powerful tools supporting users in solving complex problems. The talk summarized the state-of-the art and outlined current trends in this domain.

On the third day of the conference, I attended the Industry session. Domonkos Tikk (Gravity R&D, Hungary) gave the keynote "Lessons learned at Building Recommender Services in Industry scale". The very interesting talk explained the challenges of adapting algorithms for real-life applications and strategies for handling the technical complexity of algorithms.
In the subsequent session Jonas Seiler (plista), Daniel Kohlsdorf (XING) and I presented the talk "Get on with it – Recommender system industry challenges move towards real-world, online evaluation". In the presentation we suggested approaches for applying more realistic evaluation settings. Starting with the evolution of the evaluation approaches in IR and recommender systems we outlined the challenges evaluating real-life systems taking into account not only the precision of the results but also technical aspects and business models. We suggested a closer cooperation between academia and industry to their mutual benefit e.g., by participating in challenges organised by industry and academia. The evaluation should consider heterogeneous data as well as, streamed data, and focus on multi-dimensional metrics taking into account the needs of users and the service providers. The RecSys Challenge 2016 as well as the CLEF NewsREEL-Challenge offer interesting opportunities for evaluating own algorithms in real-life scenarios.

The venues of the conference have been impressive: At the first day, the conference talks took place in the Botanical Garden. The second and third were held in the historical university building next to the town hall. In the "Aula Magna" Galileo Galilei gave lectures in the 16th century.

The following photos give a visual impression of the ECIR 2016.

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