Saturday, November 13, 2010

CVPR, the A+'s of yesteryear, and robots need us

It is November yet again, and I'm proud to announce my last CVPR submission as a graduate student!  It is that time of the year again -- the post-CVPR downtime.  It is time to mentally tuck away the fruits of our labor (NOTE: you might want to create a readme.txt which explains how to use the 20,000 lines of code you wrote in the 7 days preceding the deadline), consider the long-term impact of our work, and perhaps even reconsider our position in life.

I want to build intelligent machines, and I feel vision is the right place to start -- even roboticists such as Rodney Brooks started out in vision. However, I don't feel churning out 'cute' CVPR papers is going to do much.  Perhaps if all one cares about in life is getting tenure at a top ranked university, then proof-of-concept papers might be the path of least resistance.  But remember when you were a teen, and you wanted to build a rocket which lets you travel at relativistic speeds -- allowing you to go back in time?  Or remember when you wanted to build those humanoid robots that would both entertain your kid sister and help out your mother with house chores?

So why did so many intelligent people I know abandon those grandeur dreams and settle for bread crumbs?  Getting your paper submitted to a peer-reviewed conference, so that you can pad your CV with another publication, is incommensurable with the dreams you once had.  The publication of today is the A+ of yesteryear, and it is just way too easy for us, intellectuals, to stay comfortable with those A's, without asking for more.  But robots need us, CVPR papers won't assemble themselves into intelligent machines.

But the deadline is over, and now its time to relax.  If my rant did not make sense to you, then I envy you.  I have to move on to more positive things -- I need to finish reading Pinker's Blank Slate, read some more Wittgenstein (and fully assimilate his criticism of Augustine's theory of language-acquisition), waste two days playing with the Riemann Zeta function (because the Basel problem was only the beginning), play some guitar, etc.