Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Research competitions

Research competitions are designed to accelerate research on a particular topic. The entity which organizes a competition usually have a problem and wants to encourage researchers to find solutions of its problem.

  • For example, Netflix, a popular US company which provides flat-rate DVD rentals and video streaming services, put a $1,000,000 prize for those who come up with the best collaborative filtering algorithm to predict user ratings for films based on previous ratings.
  • Text Analysis Conference (TAC) is a series of evaluation workshops organized by NIST to encourage research in Natural Language Processing.
  • Text REtrieval Conference (TREC) is a series of evaluation workshops organized by NIST to encourage research in Information Retrieval.
  • OpenMT is yet another evaluation series organized by NIST to encourage research in machine translation technologies.
  • Speaker Recognition Evaluation (SRE) is NIST's workshop to encourage research in speaker recognition.
Why should you participate?
  • Data: Organizers of a research competition provide participants with scarce data resources for free so that they can compete. It is very expensive to collect the data yourself. Sometimes, you can subscribe to get the data for (huge) fees, but even then, data catalogs are not made available until many years after the competition was held.
  • Evaluation: Normally, you need to prove your novel technique performs better than state-of-the-art techniques that handle the same problem as yours. First, you need to decide which other techniques you should compare to, which is not always an easy task. Then, you try to obtain the same data set used in their publication so that your results are comparable. Soon you find out they were not using standard data for training or testing. So, you decide to run the other technique on your data, but you can't find a readily available implementation of it. So, you have to implement it yourself. After all, the comparison may not be accurate because there are usually tons of details not mentioned in publications which make a big difference in results. When you participate in a research competition, you don't have to worry about all this painful overhead.
  • Exposure: Normally, when you do something great, no guarantee people will listen to you. Most prestigious conferences, for example, reject high quality papers because they have limitations on the number of papers they may accept. When you participate in such competitions and produce great results compared to other participants, they will listen and learn from what you did.
  • Publications: This is related to the previous point. Most competitions provide a good publication venue for participants to explain their systems and results.

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