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We continue to live through a unique experience in history. Out of concern for each other, we have voluntarily participated in essentially shutting down economic activities across the globe. We have discovered the interdependencies and precariousness of our lives and livelihoods. We have learned who and what is essential or important and have simplified our lives. We have realized the virtue of patience and self-kindness as we navigate the tremendous challenges of working from home and balancing our work obligations and family needs. Above all, we have surprised ourselves by implementing innovations that we had previously deemed too risky. Even more surprisingly, some of these innovations have allowed us to thrive in new ways and even enhance our effectiveness.
Our flagship ICASSP conference, which concluded a couple of weeks before I wrote this column, is just an example of such innovation. For a long time, we debated adding a virtual component to our conferences but shied away from taking action. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to turn ICASSP into a virtual event in a very short time. We all missed the impromptu discussions, networking, and chance encounters that ignite our creativity and make physical meetings so enriching. However, there is no question that the virtual experience was a success with surprising advantages. The following two quotes from our colleagues summarize the overwhelming feedback we received:
Naturally I am sure the value of meeting colleagues in-person will never change even after the pandemic, but I think allowing participants to choose an option to attend conferences virtually would solve the inequality problem for those colleagues disadvantaged geographically and/or financially.
In the opening ceremony, Dr. Tewfik mentioned that in the future, when real (i.e., not virtual) ICASSP becomes possible again, they might consider making virtual attendance also available as an option. So, the entire conference can be attended either physically or virtually. Having such a choice is a great idea…With talks and papers available online, the learning experience is so great.
These quotes eloquently make the case that the virtual aspect of ICASSP needs to become permanent and adopted by all our meetings.
I am happy to report that the Society is actively reworking the physical aspect of our future conferences and adding a virtual component. Specifically, the Society is considering plans that aim to create a richer, more diverse, and connected innovation environment that can supercharge our creativity and enhance our professional development.
Virtual conferences aren’t the only aspect of the Society that we need to fundamentally rethink. Publications, our conference offerings, membership diversity, and services—including differentiated educational offerings and business models—are among the many challenges that we need to reinvent to build a true innovation ecosystem. I briefly discuss publications and diversity in this column. We will visit other aspects in future columns.