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Governments around the world should create visa classifications especially for the international AI and machine learning community, the Partnership on AI said today in a newly released report. Such visa classifications should be made both for working professionals as well as students and interns in AI and ML in order for them to more easily attend conferences or study for extended periods.

The report makes the suggestion while acknowledging that some nations permit special visa classifications for medical professionals, athletes, religious workers, and entrepreneurs.

Such steps are necessary, the group asserts, for members of the world’s AI research community to collaborate and share ideas. Visas that allow a diverse group of researchers to attend international AI conferences is valuable because they can introduce new ideas, combat groupthink, ensure a wider swath of researchers enjoy the prestige of major conference presentations, and lets “organizations have the opportunity to benefit from all available talent.”

The Partnership on AI is a nonprofit conglomerate of major AI companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft together with nonprofit organizations like the ACLU and Amnesty International. The report released today was compiled with contributions from all partner organizations as well as independent researchers, a Partnership on AI spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.

Researchers can at times face challenges from immigration officials in the country hosting international AI conferences and adjoining workshops or symposiums.

For example, researchers based in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia encountered difficulties when traveling to the NeurIPS conference in Montreal last year, the world’s most well-attended AI conference. The incident drew ire from Black in AI cofounders Timit Gebru and Rediet Abebe as well as Google AI chief Jeff Dean and Turing award winner Yoshua Bengio.

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As a result, next year the International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the first international AI conference to be held in Africa.

The report cites this specific incident as an example of why such visa classifications are a good idea. Organizers of the Black in AI workshop at NeurIPS assert that near 50% of applications were denied, primarily on the basis that Canadian officials believed letters of recommendation to be fraudulent or that participants in the workshop would not return home.

“One partner [organization] expressed concern that researchers from the Middle East may have been declining to participate in U.S.-based AI/ML conferences in advance, anticipating the high likelihood of visa denial,” said Dr. Brian Green from the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics in the report. “In order to advance scientific understanding and create opportunities for global cooperation, multidisciplinary experts from around the world must be able to obtain visas, and in a timely manner, to participate in important global conferences and convenings.”

Analysis of the world’s AI talent pool and most popular AI conferences by Element AI CEO Jean Francois Gagné found that the number of published AI research authors around the world is up 36% from 2015.

Among a total 9 recommendations for consular and immigration officials, the report also recommends countries broaden the definition of family to include spouses, partners, and others with family ties so they may work and study in a host country. Immigration officials should also evaluate applications based on the merits of an applicant, not their country of origin.

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“Security-based denials of applications should not be nationality based, but rather should be founded on specific and credible security and public safety threats, evidence of visa fraud, or indications of human trafficking,” the report reads.

In addition to advice for world governments, the paper recommends that the world’s AI and ML community explain technical terms in plain English to host country consular and immigration officials and make all attempts to share relevant information well in advance.

The Partnership on AI is scheduled to host its annual gathering of member organizations in London on Sept.

In an interview with VentureBeat last month, executive director Terah Lyons talked extensively about the Partnership’s slow start, initiatives underway now, the role of power in AI ethics, and AI for good moonshots.

Last week, the Partnership joined member organizations Facebook and Microsoft to create the Deepfake Detection Challenge and datasets scheduled to be released in December around the time of NeurIPS being held this year in Vancouver, Canada.



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