Overall, the talks seemed quite good -- the first session started with another great talk, by best student award winner paper Andrew Drucker, about High Confidence Predictions under Adversarial Uncertainty. The bulk of the talk covered this aspect of his work from his abstract:
Letting N_t denote the number of 1s among the first t bits of x, we say that x is "eps-weakly sparse" if lim inf (N_t/t) <= eps. Our main result is a randomized algorithm that, given any eps-weakly sparse sequence x, predicts a 0 of x with success probability as close as desired to 1 - \eps. Thus we can perform this task with essentially the same success probability as under the much stronger assumption that each bit of x takes the value 1 independently with probability eps.That's a neat result. The rest of the session was very good as well.
Also the location, food, etc. all worked well.
Now for the bad news. Attendance at ITCS is much lower than expected. Last I had heard, pre-registration was below 100. For a conference that is in a major theory city, that claims to (from the call for papers):
seeks to promote research that carries a strong conceptual message (e.g., introducing a new concept or model, opening a new line of inquiry within traditional or cross-interdisciplinary areas, or introducing new techniques or new applications of known techniques).I find this outcome very disappointing.
There seemed to be a reasonable number of locals from Harvard and MIT, but not from schools further out but within striking distance. The recent math meeting in Boston perhaps let a few people stay over to attend -- I'm not sure how many did, but it didn't seem like many. And there was a particularly noticeable lack of more senior people.
I have expressed my reservations on this conference previously (see here, here, and here). Specifically, I'd much rather see FOCS and/or STOC expand into a larger conference, where more of the theory community attends, than have yet another conference. Moreover, some of the nice innovative things they're doing at ITCS this year -- having a "graduating bits" session for finishing PhDs and postdocs going on the job market and having a "community building" activity at dinner -- would, I think, be much more effective at a larger theory conference. I understand such activities are effective in other communities that have a large annual meeting (like ISIT, for example).
I also think ITCS got off on the wrong foot being placed in China for the first two years. I understand that was an interesting opportunity, and lots of theory people got paid trips to China. But I think an outcome is people have a mindset that this is a conference where you go only if you have a paper or you are a local. I believe the hope was that having it at MIT would encourage a larger participation from the theory community, and I think from that standpoint the conference was not successful. (Perhaps it's larger than it was in China, and I'm sure some people will disagree with me, but I don't view a 100-person conference in the Boston area meant for the general theory community as a success.)
I think it's a big question of where ITCS goes from here, and I think it's a question the larger community (not just the people attending this year) need to be involved in. The quality of the work reinforces in my mind that the papers should go somewhere, preferably in my mind to a larger FOCS, STOC, or SODA; or, possibly, to a larger and better attended ITCS. Or perhaps people are happy with the current model, and my concerns are unwarranted. Let me know.