Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Speakers for machine vision conferences

I don’t attend many conferences, partly because my travel budget is microscopic, but mainly because I don’t find them very useful. The reason they lack usefulness is that most of the presenters are trying to sell me something. If I want to learn about new products or services I’ll read about them in the many magazines that cross my desk or on-line. What I want from a conference is to learn about how my peers have solved difficult imaging and inspection problems. Unfortunately though, these kinds of presentations are rather rare.

I think there are two reasons for this. First, many users of machine vision are reluctant to share what they’ve done out of a fear that they will be helping their competitors. That’s a valid concern although I think some companies are slipping into paranoia – exchanging information can help everyone advance (why else do we have a patent system?)

Second, people who develop and use machine vision systems are too busy doing the work to spend time talking about it. Let’s not forget that actually getting up at the conference is the least of it. Many hours have to go in to preparing a good presentation, getting it approved by the company “higher ups”, and then rehearsing.

And what’s the return on this investment of time and effort? Not a whole lot, for either speaker or his employer. Sure, there’s the slim chance that a recruiter will get to know of the speaker and match him or her up with a wonderful new job, but that’s another good reason for employers not to let their staff present.

So what’s the answer? Well if conference organizers want to avoid a parade of thinly disguised sales presentations I suggest they do the following:

  • Don’t just advertise a “Call for Speakers.” Proactively go out and invite people to speak at your conference.
  • Pick up the speakers travel and hotel costs.
  • Provide some freebies for the employer – maybe a $500 credit towards some of the products exhibited at the show or multiple free conference passes.
  • Be very appreciative of the time and effort (not to mention the nervous anxiety) that go into preparing and delivering a presentation

In wrapping up, I should mention that one notable exception to my “thinly disguised sales presentations” rule seems to be National Instruments Week. Reading some of the press reviews, it appears they actually took the time to seek out machine vision practitioners rather than vendors, so kudos to NI.


Justin Martin said...

I share your frustration. I long ago stopped attending most conferences unless my goal was to checkout competitors. I think the main issue is cost.. if they are not a thinly disguised sales pitch, as you call it, there would be nobody paying the bills and the conference could not be held. Someone has to pay for it. If not the vendors, then who ?

Add to this the relative ease with which researchers and developers can share their thoughts and exchange ideas online, and you have a recipe for the demise of conferences.

..unless of course, all conferences are held during the winter months in warm climates with great fishing and golf courses...

B Grey said...

But when the conference is held some place nice in January the boss won't approve the travel because he thinks it's just a boondoggle.

Chris said...

I just went to the VISION 2010 in Stuttgart and was quite disappointed for the exact reasons you've mentioned. However I probably should have known that beforehand since it was already advertised as a "trade fair".

For real news in the field, it's probably best to either travel to scientific conferences like CVPR or ICCV, or as you already said, read magazines and scientific journals.

Anyway, that has been my first and last time at a "trade fair" on computer vision.