MONTREAL, CANADA—Dozens of African researchers were denied visas for an artificial intelligence (AI) meeting here last week, even as the Canadian government takes steps to advance the country’s standing in AI and the field aims for greater inclusivity.
Black in AI, a daylong workshop for scientists of African descent held in conjunction with the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS), a leading AI conference, had invited more than 200 scientists from Africa to participate. But about half of the visa applications led to denials or acceptances so delayed that the researchers were unable to attend. “It looks like we have some inconsistency between what one part of government does and what another does,” says Yoshua Bengio, a NeurIPS organizer and professor at the University of Montreal.
NeurIPS is the largest AI conference in the world. This year, more than 8500 people came for academic talks, conversations with job recruiters, and social events. Conference organizers foresaw problems obtaining visas for foreign invitees and reached out to the Canadian government for help in July. Still, out of 230 Africans, about 15% heard back too late to attend or not at all. Another 33% were denied visas.