This time, we have a report by Philippe Blache and Pierre Zweigenbaum on the French conference "Traitement Automatique des Langues Naturelles" which, incidentally, takes place this year in Nancy: http://www.loria.fr/projets/TALN/
I would like this section to become a regular feature -- so if you are interested in reporting on a similar event taking place in a european country, please get in touch with me (email@example.com).
Our main activities over the past months have been focussed on setting the stage for the next EACL conference, which is scheduled for Spring of 2003. We received a range of excellent responses to our call for bids to host the conference, and the final selection was made in October. I'm delighted to report that EACL'03 will be held in Budapest, where our local arrangements Chair will be Professor Ferenc Kiefer. We are also very grateful to those colleagues at other sites who also submitted extremely attractive offers.
Some of you may remember the discussion at the Business Meeting at EACL'99 in Bergen, where it was decided that we would extend the format of future EACL conferences, which had up till then been run as mini-ACLs. Of course, ACL meetings have themselves changed since 1999, so what we proposed then will not seem so different now. Our major impetus for change was the desire to widen the participation in our meetings to include not only the traditional high-quality (i.e., low acceptance rate) theoretical track, but also a more applied track of "demo-talks" and a session for work-in-progress reports from national and pan-European projects. We also want to involve more closely the many national CL organisations (e.g., ATALA, CLIN, CLIF, CLUK etc.) and other European organisations in related areas such as Speech and MT. In sum, we want EACL conferences to be a gathering of all European CL researchers and a showcase for the extensive activities in our field within Europe. We want it to be a conference that is complemenatary to 'rather than competitive with' the annual ACL meetings. And we want it to be the sort of conference that we all plan around rather than just plan for.
EACL'03 in Budapest will be our first conference with this new format, and plans for this are already beginning to take shape. Our discussions with the other European organisations have resulted in an almost unanimous agreement by them to collaborate in some way with EACL'03, possibly through co-located meetings or workshops, or by organising thematic sessions or panels. The European Commission has expressed an interest in holding their 2003 meeting of projects in the area of human language technologies in conjunction with our conference. We have also been approached by a consortium of EU and Indian researchers working on NLP-driven multilingual localisation of software for several Indian languages, who want to hold a workshop in association with EACL'03. It's all beginning to look really good. So, add it to your diary now: Spring 2003, EACL conference, Budapest!!
Another noteworthy point is that a new EACL constitution was approved by its members and ratified by the ACL executive committee in July. The most significant change to the constitution is the addition of the position of Chair-elect. This was introduced to ensure a smooth hand-over between Chairs. The Chair-elect will be responsible for coordinating the planning of the next EACL conference; this means that at the actual time of the conference, he or she will then be Chair.
According to the EACL Constitution, the Nominating Committee proposes a candidate for the position and this information is circulated to all EACL members, who are given the opportunity to nominate other candidates. We are pleased to announce that the Nominating Committee has proposed Claire Gardent, and that no other nominations were received. She is therefore elected unopposed.
The new-look site is easy to navigate and will become a comprehensive repository of information for the CL community in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
A section for students is being built, including details of NLP/CL departments across Europe, summer schools and conferences with student sessions, links to online courses and broader material to develop research skills and survive life as a postgraduate.
Parallel to this will be a collection of resources aimed at all researchers: the EACL calendar of European and world conferences, information about national and international professional organisations and funding bodies, and links for specific areas of CL such as dialogue, generation and IR.
The new site will draw upon the expertise and infrastructure developed under the JEWELS (Joint European Website for Education in Language and Speech) project. Additionally, a form on the site will invite the community to submit information about their own departments, projects and links to further resources.
TALN brings together about 120 people. Since it is mainly a French-speaking conference, its participants primarily come from the French-speaking area but there is also approximately 15% of participants that come from other countries.
In terms of attendance, TALN is thus one of the most successful national conferences in Europe. Several factors can explain this success. First, TAL addresses a community exceeding the strict national frame: the French-speaking world includes France of course but also Canada, Switzerland, Belgium and North Africa (TALN'2000 was organized in Switzerland). TALN has thus an international aspect while at the same time not overlaping with other international conferences in the field.
A second promoting factor is the creation some years ago of the TALN standing committee, in the style of the ESSLLI Standing Board. This committee chooses two years in advance the site of the conference and supplies a logistic support for the organizers. The organization experience grows each year and is passed on to the new organizers. This facilitates the work and in particular the handling of the financial aspects: thanks to successful fund raising (both from institutional and from private sponsors), TALN is self-financed and registration fees (including acts and meals) can be kept low: 180 Euro per person and 150 Euro for students.
The last factor contributing to TALN success is its relations with other communities. So in 2002 -- and this is an event of great importance -- TALN is jointly organized with JEP (Journées d'Etude sur la Parole), the French speaking Speech Processing conference. This will be the first time that two important conferences in the domain of speech processing and natural language processing will be organized jointly. We hope to thus prefigure what could happen in the future at the European level.
Besides the main conference, 11 workshops and 5 tutorials were organized. Workshops were either regular ones (Senseval, EWNLG, HLT, etc.) or more spontaneous ones (open questions, arabic workshop, etc.). 553 persons attended a workshop, and 147 a tutorial. One of the problems with workshop participation was the necessity of registering also for the main conference, entailing quite high fees for those attending only a workshop. In spite of a very low sponsorship level, the conference has a balanced budget, with a small surplus, helpful for coming ACL activities.
Workshop and main conference proceedings are now available from the US ACL office. A CD-Rom contains most of the contributions, except for a few workshops. It seems that most participants enjoyed the city of Toulouse: many of them came with their close relatives and children, and a number stayed in the area after the meeting. Many people enjoyed the walking tours of the city we organized, and also the excellent food in the nearby restaurants. The banquet was also much appreciated. The concert and the impressive architecture of the rooms balanced a relatively modest quantity of food provided by a deficient company. Weather was not as warm and sunny as expected, but that was probably better for the speakers and the audience.
The course was a foundational course. That is, it was designed to cover the basics of the subject in a manner comprehensible to students from diverse disciplines. For this reason, the course was one of the few two-week courses offered at the Helsinki ESSLLI: 10 sessions of 90 minutes each were held. Teaching computational semantics involves introducing the student to a wide range of topics, explaining how they all fit together, and showing how to turn theory into computational reality. This is not something that can be rushed.
The course focussed on two themes: representation and inference. On the representation side, we covered basic ideas and techniques (compositionality, lambda-driven semantic construction, treatment of scope ambiguities), initially in the setting of first-order logic, and then in the setting of Discourse Representation Theory (DRT). We discussed both the underlying theory and showed how to implement semantic construction tools in Prolog. On the inference side, we introduced the basic ideas of logical deduction and related them to concrete linguistic problems. At the end of the first week we brought the themes of representation and inference together for the first time: we showed how to construct a system which drew on freely available inference tools (such as theorem provers and model-builders) to construct first-order semantic representations for sentences and short texts. At the end of the second week we brought them together in a deeper way: we showed how to use such tools to implement van der Sandt's DRT-based presupposition algorithm.
By and large, the course seems to have been a success. Attendance peaked at 120, and 90 stayed on till the end. The sessions were a blend of straight lectures, system demos, and discussing the answers to assignments. Students from a wide variety of backgrounds attended (even computational biology was represented) and feedback was generally positive.
We would like to thank the EACL for their financial support (it made a big difference) and our students for their helpful feedback on the material presented.
The program committee (chaired by Claire Gardent) selected 42 courses and 6 workshops, equally distributed in the different disciplines of Logic, Language and Computation. In 2002, we have paid particular attention to interdisciplinary courses, suppressing the traditional three mono-thematic sections on Logic, Language, and Computation in order to leave more space for the other three combined sections on logic & language, logic & computation, and language & computation. The overall program is varied and covers most of the standard and advanced topics in these areas. The six workshops have been equally distributed in the three sections. Special attention this year has been given on the application of the strategic area of semantic web, organizing a special workshop on this issue.
The full program, with the detailed description of the courses and workshops, is available on the web site www.esslli2002.it. The section "Language & Computation" contains the following courses and workshops:
As in previous years, EACL will sponsor one of the courses on the foundational or introductory tracks, with the intention of attracting more people to Computational Linguistics. In the recent past, EACL has sponsored the following courses:
In 2002 EACL will sponsor: "Shallow Text Processing" (Chris Brew)
In return for the EACL sponsorship, members of EACL get a reduced registration fee at ESSLLI. So don't forget to mention your EACL affiliation when you register!
The President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Johannes Rau, presented the German Future Prize to Prof. Wahlster for his project "Computer Language Processing for Dialog and Translation Assistants". Wahlster led the project Verbmobil, which was executed by a consortium of partners from both science and industry, to internationally recognized success. The project has given rise to a number of marketable products and startup companies.
The 500,000 Deutschmark President's prize is awarded each year for outstanding innovations in technology, engineering, or the natural sciences. Proven prospects for practical application, unrestricted marketability, and the creation of new jobs are crucial criteria for the selection of nominees. In 2001, four research groups and projects were nominated for the final selection process. The jury made its decision shortly before the ceremony in which President Johannes Rau presented the prize.
Wahlster, Managing Director of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence and professor at Saarland University, is the first computer scientist to receive this prize. In a brief speech, Wahlster said: "I am glad to have received this high honor now, in the middle of my career, and not at the end of my years of active research.
The prize both encourages and obligates me to continue to tackle important open problems in the area of human-technology interaction, to create innovations that will lead to a human knowledge society, and to inspire and educate young students who can contribute to this fascinating area of computer science. This prize will give a great boost to the rapid dissemination of the results of our research: I'm sure that our twenty spin-off products and sixteen startup firms will now be joined by others, which will lead to the creation of more new jobs and of further innovations of lasting value."
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