The World of Probability becomes One…
Leif Döring and Andreas Kyprianou write:
The year 2020 will be remembered as a year of big changes in many aspects caused by the COVID-19 virus and its consequences. Research, as a truly global activity, has also been affected severely. Conferences, schools, research visits and seminar programs have been canceled or postponed. However, the global lockdown provides the perfect laboratory environment to road test a number of ideas that some within our community, have been thinking of for quite some time. As such, the One World Probability project was born (www.owprobability.org). The project follows three major targets: to foster research communication during the COVID-19 lockdown; to create long-term regular access to high-level research, irrespective of local resources; and to stimulate a change in mindset with regard to how much travel is necessary for research.
On 26th March, just a few days after ideas were finalized, the first session of the One World Probability Seminar (OWPS) took place with 450 participants spanning the globe from San Diego to Beijing. While a perfect time slot does not exist (Chinese participants sat down at 21:00–23:00 hrs, whereas Californians rose for a 06:00 hrs start) this truly global activity created a lot of excitement among its participants. The One World Probability Seminar has continued to broadcast two seminars per week on Thursdays and its seminar programme has already been extended well into the summer. For the time being, the seminar uses the electronic platform Zoom to stream talks. In contrast to some other platforms, Zoom is extremely stable, especially for large audiences. Moreover, it is free for participants, as long as a central license is purchased by the host. As an additional convenience over a regular seminar, discussions around questions that occur during the talk can take place in a chat window between participants. Discussions after the talks happen in so-called breakout rooms. Operating Zoom requires some care in order to avoid so-called “Zoom bombing” (incursions of random disruptive individuals). Since the first lectures were broadcast, the One World Probability Seminar has experienced a process of evolution at breakneck speed. A number of different formats for the two back-to-back seminars held every week have been experimented with.
From the project’s potential as a permanent feature in the probability research landscape, it is clear that it must be run by the entire community. Weekly chairing is performed by volunteers. Both IMS and the Bernoulli Society became co-sponsors of the project and a board was created [see below]. The board’s role is to help move the vision forward and ensure that the project’s full potential is met. This means offering opportunities across career stage, gender, geographical location and time zone, as well addressing as other factors that are emerging en route. The long-term aim is that the board will refresh in a similar spirit to the way journal boards do. A first step to expand the project beyond weekly seminar talks is the One World Probability School organised by Hendrik Weber and Andris Gerasimovics in July 2020.
The benefits of worldwide online research activities have become increasingly clear among the many that are currently active. The ability to live-stream contemporary research talks to any device has led to the realization that a greater sense of diversity, inclusion and international connectivity can be had, without the need to travel and incur major financial or CO2 expenditure. Whilst this is particularly pertinent during the 2020 global lockdown, this equally applies to the post-virus world that awaits us. Within days of the first OWPS broadcast, a number of other “One World” seminars in different fields of mathematics have popped up. Starting with the One World PDE Seminar, no less than fourteen other One World-branded seminars in mathematics have emerged and have remained broadcasting since. Aptly named “Other Worlds”, the full list can be found on the One World Probability webpage. The sheer number of seminars and workshops that have been moved online in Mathematics alone is phenomenal. This has stimulated the creation of a webpage, https://mathseminars.org/info, which provides a rolling list of the huge numbers of daily seminars.
Online activities will never be able to replace the valuable moments of intellectual exchange and creation of opportunity that we experience in during face-to-face exchange. Nonetheless, the moment is upon us to experiment with new regimes of interaction, especially given that environmental issues pose an even greater threat than the current crisis. The journey has just begun.
One World Probability board members: Siva Athreya (Bangalore), Louigi Addario-Berry (Montreal), Chris Burdzy (Seattle), Itaj Benjamini (Weizmann), Nathanael Berestycki (Vienna), Ivan Corwin (New York), Alison Etheridge (Oxford), Christina Goldschmidt (Oxford), Alice Guionnet (Lyon), Zenghu Li (Beijing), Milton Jara (Rio de Janeiro), Jean-Christophe Mourrat (New York). Leif Döring (Mannheim) and Andreas Kyprianou (Bath) are co-chairs.