In a world where there is a shortage of skills in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, fostering innovation through conference and research meet-ups is important. Global gatherings of AI/ML researchers and practitioners around the world illustrate the power of collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas. For example, at the recent World Artificial Intelligence Conference in China, more than half of the participants were from outside the country.
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But, there have been instances where researchers were denied visas when they were invited for AI conferences abroad. At the 2018 NeurIPS Conference in Montreal, Canada, many Asian, Eastern European, and African invitees were unable to attend due to denied or delayed visa approvals. Invitees from Africa, in particular, were delayed or denied entry into the country at over 50% rate due to alleged security concerns.
Now, Partnership on AI, a non-profit group with 90 member organisations including major universities, large technology companies like Amazon and Baidu, and organisations such as the American Psychological Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, has appealed to world governments to make it an easy process for visa approvals for AI experts. According to PAI, visa laws, policies, and practices are challenging the ability of many communities, including artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) community, to incorporate diverse voices in their work.
“Due to the emergent and rapidly evolving nature of AI technology, AI, in particular, engenders high impact AI safety and security risks, which can be mitigated by increasing the diversity of participants. Countries lose out on valuable insights from individuals around the globe when officials are Visa Laws, Policies, and Practices required to make decisions based solely on the applicant’s nationality and without specific information to justify a denial,” said Partnership on AI.
Experts have made arguments governments should eliminate nationality-based barriers in evaluating visa and permanent residency applications for researchers. 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. It is therefore important for governments to pass laws that establish special categories of visas or permits for AI/ML research. This would ensure a seamless flow of diverse ideas which is very critical for the challenges we are facing when it comes to AI research, applications, privacy and regulatory frameworks.