ECAI, the most important Artificial Intelligence conference in Europe, will turn 50 in Santiago

The city will become the world capital of AI during the celebration of ECAI 2024 next year. This week, CiTIUS hosts the launch meetings between the organization's top officials and the president of the European Association for Artificial Intelligence (EurAI), with which the countdown begins for the celebration of this exceptional event, one of the most important in the world in its field.

In an unprecedented decision, the European Association for Artificial Intelligence (EurAI) announced just a year ago that it would once again hold its reference conference (ECAI) . European Conference on Artificial Intelligence) in the same venue (Santiago de Compostela). He did so after entrusting his organization to CiTIUS (Research Center on Intelligent Technologies of the USC) for the second time in four years, in recognition of the success achieved in the ECAI 2020 digital edition: a pioneering online event, created in record time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which had more than 5,000 participants from 120 different countries, and in which almost 400 research papers were presented.

Thus, Santiago will once again be the epicenter of global Artificial Intelligence in October 2024. A moment of exceptional importance, coinciding in time with the half century of life of the conference (organized for the first time in 1974 in the United Kingdom), and the foreseeable upcoming approval of the European Union's AI Regulation, the first law of its kind worldwide.

ECAI 2024 is expected to bring together more than 1,000 researchers from around the world, as well as global entities, organizations, and companies, who will meet in Santiago de Compostela to present and discuss the latest scientific-technical advances, the future of AI and its applications. The event will be a meeting of extraordinary economic and social interest, and is promoted by the European Association for Artificial Intelligence (EurAI), which has entrusted its organization to CiTIUS researchers.

First steps

The organization of the event takes its first steps this week in Santiago (Spain), with preliminary visits to the facilities that will host the conference and different launch meetings, in which those responsible for the ECAI 2024 program participate: Ulle Endriss (University of Amsterdam , Netherlands) and Francisco Melo (Instituto Superior Técnico de Lisboa, Portugal); as well as the general manager of the conference, Fredrik Heintz (Linköping University, Sweden); the president of EurAI , Carles Sierra (AI Research Institute, CSIC); and the presidents of the organizing committee, Senén Barro and Alberto Bugarín (CiTIUS-USC).

Carles Sierra, explained the reasons why EurAI decided to repeat this conference in Santiago: "despite all the problems that occurred due to the pandemic, the organization of ECAI 2020 was absolutely exemplary, fantastic", he assured. "From EurAI 's point of view, seeing the way in which they reacted in such a short time to make it a success, we felt very unhappy with the fact that so much organizational effort did not have the reward of people coming to visit Santiago". "For this reason, at the first opportunity that we had, and given the interest of the organization, the EurAI General Assembly unanimously decided by acclamation that ECAI would be held again in Santiago, so that the city could shine. And the truth is that we have been visiting the places where it is going to be hosted, and the facilities are fantastic... I think it will be a success of participation, and I am sure that they are going to do an impeccable job to make Santiago a showcase of European artificial intelligence, "he said.

Likewise, he highlighted the importance of having an organization of this type in Europe, stating that "EurAI is a federation of associations, an agile and simple way to organize ourselves, without creating other structures in which regional or national associations are diluted". "Scientific organizations also have the role of helping parliaments make laws that are based on documents, reports... that dialogue is one of the roles that we must play", he said.

For their part, those responsible for the program also wanted to highlight the social implications of the meeting. Ulle Endriss reflected on what Artificial Intelligence has changed in these 50 years of ECAI history: "in 1974 AI was much smaller: there were many fewer disciplines, fewer people working on it... it has changed significantly, and in the coming years, at the very least, it will continue to change a lot. Some things we can almost guess, but most of them we have no idea, we can't even imagine them. I think it's going to surprise us, as it has surprised us in the past, and I'm looking forward to seeing it... It's not just about technology: it's also about people, about ideas, about connecting with the social sciences or the humanities... things that make AI much more exciting, this is much more than working with computers", Endriss reasoned, adding that "in 50 years we will look back and smile, just as we do now when we think about the first edition of ECAI in 1974". A meeting that has now become much more than a scientific conference, given the growing presence of companies, entrepreneurs, investors, and policy makers. Francisco Melo explained that "the successes achieved by Artificial Intelligence in recent years have attracted the attention of society, making this type of events more attractive to the public, increasingly aware of its importance". "Large technology companies that already have very important research results in the field of AI have a much stronger presence in conferences like ECAI", explains Melo. In words of the researcher at the Lisbon Higher Technical Institute, "conferences like these are also an opportunity for the private sector to publicize the research that is being developed within companies, thus contributing to the development of Artificial Intelligence".

Finally, those responsible for the organization of ECAI 2024 in Santiago wanted to highlight the importance for the city, the USC and CiTIUS the re-edition of this conference with such a short distance in time. For Senén Barro, scientific director of CiTIUS, "the fact that Europe's most important conference on AI returns to Santiago, and also celebrating its half century of life, is a recognition of our university, and specifically a recognition to CiTIUS, as a reference research center international in artificial intelligence". A vision shared by the center's researcher Alberto Bugarín, who focused on the impact that ECAI 2024 will have for AI in Galicia and Spain: "hosting ECAI again in Santiago de Compostela will give AI students and researchers, and also to society in general, the unique opportunity to learn about the most recent advances and, above all, to interact with the best AI professionals worldwide".

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