Report of the ECCAI Chair 2000

Wolfgang Wahlster


Presented at the ECCAI General Assembly

on the 23th of August 2000 during ECAI 2000 in Berlin

Founded in 1982, ECCAI currently represents 26 European societies for Artificial Intelligence and is now 18 years old, so that it has reached adult maturity. ECCAI is in very good shape to meet the challenges of the new millenium. While the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) has about 5000 paid members, ECCAI is now the world’s largest AI organization representing more than 6000 European AI researchers and practitioners.

Over the past four years the ECCAI Board has introduced various major innovations into ECCAI: the electronic ETAI journal, the fellows program, the dissertation award, a new conference series on applications of intelligent systems (PAIS), electronic access to the AICom journal, and an ECCAI intranet for all officers of member societies. In addition, ECCAI has improved its financial position. All conference activities break even or result in a modest surplus. Our strategy was to reduce the Board’s operating costs and to increase the services for the member societies. With ECCAI’s budgets for 2000 and 2001 the operating reserve will continue to grow, so that we can continue to subsidize various ECCAI activities.

ECCAI's Financial Situation

The General Assembly's decision to introduce a membership fee of 3 Euros per member 1997 and the subsequent revision of the fee structure to allow some discount depending on the size of the association in 1999 were major milestones in the history of ECCAI. After four rounds of fee collection, we can conclude that the need for a fee is now accepted among our members and that the fee collection procedures are established. We have to thank ECCAI’s treasurer, Jean-Paul Barthes, for his very dedicated work to initialize this very difficult fee collection process. There are a few societies who still owe ECCAI the membership fee for 2000 and some even for 1999, but I am sure that ECCAI will receive the payment during the next weeks. ECCAI offers as our American colleagues would say "the most bang for the buck". For a maximum of 3 Euros an individual member gets thirteen benefits and privileges:

1. reduced ECAI conference registration rates

2. reduced PAIS conference registration rates

3. reduced fee for attending ACAI summer schools

4. password for free access to the AI Communications Journal

5. eligibility for ECCAI travel awards

6. participation in the ECCAI Fellows program

7. eligibility for ECCAI dissertation awards

8. 30% discount off list price for ECAI proceedings published by IOS

9. free address listing in the European AI directory

10. free access to the electronic journal ETAI

11. free listings on ECCAI's webpages to promote AI activities

12. access to ECCAI's mailing lists for broadcasting information

13. active participation in all discussions and events organized by ECCAI

This is really good value. Personally I would be ready to pay 30 Euros per year for these services. At the end of this year, ECCAI’s net assets will be about 80,000 Euros. For the high service level and the very low fee structure this is a very satisfying result and only made possible through all the volunteer work in our organization.

Operation of the ECCAI Board

My colleagues on the ECCAI Board are the following: Silvia Miksch from Austria is Vice Chair and handles the ECCAI Dissertation Award and nominations for the ECAI-2002 PC Chair, Jean-Paul Barthès from France is our treasurer, Carl Gustaf Jansson from Sweden is Secretary and handles the minutes, Kris Van Marcke from Belgium is our communications officer, Rob Milne from the UK handles the ECCAI Travel Grants, the nominations of new Board members and the bids for ECAI-2004.

Please note that Carl Gustaf Jansson, Jean Paul Barthès and myself are now serving on the Board for our second two-year term. This means that today, we have to elect at least three new officers, since according to the ECCAI statutes the maximal time of office is 4 years. I am happy that we received excellent nominations for new officers from various member societies, so that I am sure that we will have a very good new ECCAI Board at the end of this General Assembly.

Most of our work was done via telecooperation over the Internet. Since the last General Assembly, we had two face-to-face meetings of the ECCAI Board on the 16th of October 1999 in Berlin (combined with a site visit for ECAI-2000), and on the 12th of May 2000 in Brussels.

I would like to thank all my colleagues on the Board for their excellent work and team effort.

ECCAI Secretariat, ECCAI Webpages and ECCAI Logos

The ECCAI Secretariat is currently located at my home institution, the German Research Center for AI (DFKI). Sigrid Herzog has managed this secretariat as part of her job at DFKI for the last four years. In addition, DFKI has sponsored Renato Orsini as the Webmaster of the ECCAI webpages. This infrastructure supported the work of the ECCAI Board in many ways. The donation of DFKI helped to reduce the operational expenses of ECCAI drastically. I would like to thank DFKI for this support. Many thanks go to Sigrid Herzog and Renato Orsini for their excellent work and service for ECCAI. Our ECCAI portal has been recognized over an over again by international awards for useful information about AI activities and they are heavily used now as a point of reference.

I would also like to thank all ECCAI member societies that use the ECCAI logo on their own webpages and provide links to the ECCAI portal.

ECAI Conferences and ACAI Courses

The ECAI conference series is very successful and ranks among the top four international and general AI conferences together with IJCAI, AAAI and PRICAI. This year, ECAI’s submission rate again matched that of AAAI. I am happy to report that there were also many submissions from countries outside of Europe like Australia, Canada, China, Japan and the United States, showing that ECAI is seen as a truly international forum now. With an acceptance rate of 31%, the first-rate program committee with his outstanding chair, Werner Horn, has selected a very high quality program. However, I am quite concerned that accepted papers of authors from five of our large member societies namely France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain fill nearly 75% of ECAI’s program. I hope very much that the submission and acceptance rates for the authors from other member societies, in particular representing countries in Middle and Eastern Europe will increase considerably at the next ECAI conferences. This year’s ECAI is a real success story: 800 conference attendees and more than 600 workshop and 140 tutorial attendees have joined us at ECAI-2000. I am very happy that Kurt Sundermeyer and Hans-Dieter Burkhard and their team were able to find very good sponsors, which gave 72,000 Euros as donations to our flagship conference. Thanks to the outstanding local arrangement team.

ECCAI has sponsored the very successful 8th Advanced Course on Artificial Intelligence (ACAI-99) on the Greek Island of Crete in Chania in 1999 that focused on Machine Learning. For 2001, we have received an excellent proposal from our Czech colleagues who are ready to host the 9th ACAI in the beautiful city of Prague. This course will focus on Multi-Agent systems and the plan is to merge it with the third European Agent Systems Summer School (EASSS) sponsored by the AgentLink Network of Excellence.

Our next ECAI conference will be held in Lyon in 2002. I was terribly shocked to hear that the Local Arrangement Chair of our Lyon conference, our friend Professor Jean-Marc Fouet, died in an accident in May this year. He had invested a lot of time in the proposal and had already started the conference preparations. I am very grateful to AFIA and in particular Prof. Alain Mille from Lyon that he took over this challenging task of serving as the new chair of the LAC for ECAI-2002. I would also like to thank Marc Ayel and Laurent Siklossy who helped a lot to stabilize the situation after the sudden death of Jean-Marc Fouet.

I am very glad that our colleagues from Spain have submitted a very promising bid to host ECAI-2004 in Valencia. Prof. Botti and his team from the Technical University of Valencia have provided us with all the necessary information to take a decision about the venue for ECAI-2004 today. I am very enthusiastic about having ECAI for the first time in Spain, since with the Spanish Association for Artificial Intelligence (AEPIA) and the Catalan Association for Artificial Intelligence (ACIA) we have very active ECCAI members supporting this event. In addition, Spanish AI researchers are extremely active and have submitted 33 papers to ECAI 2000. Thanks to Rob Milne to initiate this proposal from Spain.

ETAI: Electronic Transactions on Artificial Intelligence

In 1997, ECCAI announced the creation of a new forum for exchange of scientific results, the Electronic Transactions on Artificial Intelligence (ETAI). The editor in chief of ETAI is Erik Sandewall from Linköping University, Sweden. ETAI has gained international recognition as a major driving force for innovative methods for scientific publication and scholarly discussion.

Since 1998 the agreement between the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA), ECCAI, and Linköping University works fine and increases the international reputation of the journal.

Six areas are currently active in ETAI: Concept Based Knowledge Representation, Decision and Reasoning under Uncertainty, Machine Intelligence Workshops, Intelligent User Interfaces, Planning and Scheduling, Reasoning about Actions and Change.

The well-known Machine Intelligence Workshop series (MI) is now a special area in ETAI. The special MI issues will be available both electronically - free of charge - and as a book.

A new area about Ontologies and Semantics for the Web is currently under consideration. The idea to set up a new ETAI area about this hot topic emerged during a recent Dagstuhl seminar, that Dieter Fensel, Henry Lieberman, Jim Hendler and myself had organized in March 2000.

With ETAI, Europe has the chance to become the leader in innovation of scientific publication in the Internet Age. On behalf of ECCAI, I would like to thank Erik Sandewall for his excellent job and his enthusiasm for ETAI. Thanks go also to the area editors of ETAI, the Members of the Policy Board and last but not least to the authors, who submitted their work to this new medium.

AICom: AI Communications

Electronic access to AICom is provided to members of the ECCAI societies by a password. ECCAI is paying a flat fee to the publisher of AICom, IOS Press. ECCAI pays 3000 Euros for electronic access based on the individual access of ECCAI members. Each ECCAI society has received its own password that is valid for 1999 and 2000. All four issues of volumes 10 – 12 of the European Journal on Artificial Intelligence are now available online. More than 1000 individuals are using the electronic access on a regular basis.

Georg Gottlob does an outstanding job in editing AICom and I would like to thank him for all his efforts. The quality of the journal has increased once again and it is now one of the leading general AI journals worldwide. Georg Gottlob has recruited a new editorial board and all accepted AICom papers are now automatically included in the well-known online bibliography DBLP. In contrast to ETAI, AICom is a traditional journal with the classical review policy made available also electronically. I think that ETAI together with AICom provide an excellent service for the members of ECCAI.

The ECCAI Fellows Program

On the 4th of August 1999 we had the first ECCAI Fellows Breakfast. 27 individuals were elected in the first round by the Board. This year we had the second round of this program with excellent nominations from our ECCAI member societies. The ECCAI Fellows Program honors only a very small percentage of the total membership of all ECCAI member societies (up to a maximum of 3%). I want to congratulate our five new ECCAI Fellows in 2000: Werner Horn (Austria), Ramon Lopez de Mantaras (Spain), Rob Milne (UK), Jörg Siekmann (Germany), Pietro Torasso (Italy). That means that we have now 32 ECCAI fellows.

Tony Cohn, Nicolaas Mars, Bernd Neumann, Erik Sandewall, Oliviero Stock, and myself have served on the ECCAI Fellows Selection Committee and evaluated all nominations positively.

This year, the ECCAI Fellows Breakfast took place on Thursday, August 24, 7:30 am to 8:45 am in the Forum Hotel Berlin.

I know that there are a lot of colleagues, who have deserved this honor, but could not be included in the first two rounds. Please nominate them for the next round in 2001.

The ECCAI AI Dissertation Award

In August 1999 the first ECCAI Dissertation Award for 1998 was given to Paolo Liberatore from Italy. This year the winner of the 1999 AI Dissertation Award is Dieter Fox from the University of Bonn in Germany for his outstanding thesis: "Markov Localization: A Probabilistic Framework for Mobile Robot Localization and Navigation"

The Award includes a certificate signed by the ECCAI Chair and 1.500 Euros (which include the travel grant for the Award ceremony). The ECCAI Dissertation Award Presentation took place on Wednesday August 23, 2000, 15:30-15:45. I am happy to report that we had six excellent candidates and that the committee had a difficult time to decide between these extraordinary nominations. The deadline for the 2000 ECCAI Dissertation Award is 1st of December, 2000. I would like to thank Silvia Miksch for her great job dealing with the ECCAI dissertation award this year.

Conclusion and Future Directions

I think we all can be proud of our achievements during the past four years. Nevertheless there remain some open issues:

I am currently serving as the president of ACL, the international Association for Computational Linguistics and have experienced how difficult such an internationalization process is. Personally I would favor one worldwide AI association with chapters in Europe, America and the Asian-Pacific region. But one has to be very careful, diplomatic and democratic to reach this ambitious goal. ECCAI is a very vital and strong organization, that can serve the European AI community for the next decades. However, I think that a merger between ECCAI, AAAI and PRICAI to form a worldwide organization with continental chapters could improve the service to the AI community in the long run.

Let me finish now with a personal remark. I have served in ECCAI for 18 years since its inception in various functions: as a representative of the German AI group in GI, as a program chair in 1996 and as the chair of ECCAI since 1996. It has always been a pleasure to work for this organization. I will retire now from ECCAI, but will continue to serve our international scientific community in my role for ACL. I would like to thank all of you for the support and collaboration during the past 18 years.